A Chinese engineer at General Electric (GE) was arrested this week for attempting to steal files detailing proprietary wind-turbine technology from his employer.
Xiaoqing Zheng, a U.S. citizen who has worked in GE’s Schenectady, N.Y. power division since 2008, allegedly used his position at the company to steal trade secrets, according to an affidavit filed by the FBI Wednesday and obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
Zheng, who also owns an energy technology company in China and holds senior positions at a number of other Chinese firms, encrypted the proprietary files within a photo of a sunset, which he sent to his personal email address, according to the affidavit.
A search of Zheng’s house yielded a handbook that details “the type of resources the government of China will give to individuals or entities who can provide certain technologies,” according to the affidavit.
At a hearing Thursday, the 55-year-old engineer, who holds degrees from Northwestern Polytechnic University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was released on $100,000 bail and placed on house arrest.
“Dr. Zheng is highly educated scientist with 40 GE patents,” Zheng’s attorney, Kevin Luibrand said. “GE acknowledged that he could and did have a separate business—and the core of the allegations are that he transmitted information on his own patents to himself and to no one else.”
The firm Zheng owns in China is developing similar technology to that of GE. Zheng disclosed the possible conflict of interest to his American employer.
In addition to the email ploy, which took place on July 5 and resulted in Zheng’s arrest, he also “downloaded more than 19,000 files from GE’s computer network onto an external storage device, believed by GE investigators to have been a personal thumb drive” in 2014, according to the affidavit.
The FBI is now pursuing a broader investigation into the theft of GE’s intellectual property.