Federal authorities last week arrested an executive working for a Chinese conglomerate on charges of stealing inbred corn seed from production fields in Iowa and Illinois and trying to smuggle it into China.

Mo Hailong, also known as Robert Mo, is accused of stealing trade secrets worth about $30 million to $40 million, said Nicholas Klinefeldt, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.

Mo is reportedly employed by a company that is part of DBN Group, a Chinese conglomerate that includes a corn seed company.

Mo allegedly stole inbred corn seeds from fields in Iowa and Illinois between September 2011 and October 2012 that represented several years’ worth of research, according to news reports.

He was found in an Iowa farm field near Tama used by Pioneer to test corn seed products. When confronted, the manager said Mo was “very nervous and his face was flushed,” the Des Moines Register reported.

Monsanto also reported suspicious activity in fields near Bondurant, the Register said.

Investigators found ears of corn stashed in self-storage units as well as hundreds of pictures of corn fields and production facilities, court documents state.
On Sept. 30, 2012, FBI teams stopped three Chinese men as they left the country, seizing corn seeds tucked into envelopes and napkins, and confiscating other evidence.

Additional charges may be filed against others who helped Mo try to steal the seed technology, officials said.

American Seed Trade Assoc­iation (ASTA) President and CEO Andrew LaVigne said the group is deeply concerned about the efforts to steal and export seed products, seed technology and trade secrets developed by U.S. agriculture companies.

“We are extremely pleased to see that the matter is being taken seriously by the U.S. government,” he said.

“The swift action sends the message that no matter the nationality, either domestic or international, this practice is unacceptable.”