Judge: Chinese woman accused in scheme to steal US seeds, send to China, won't get own trial

DES MOINES, Iowa – A woman accused of conspiring to steal trade secrets from U.S. seed companies and send them to China, where she’s married to the CEO of a large biotechnology firm, will be tried with another suspect despite her claims that she left the firm long before most of the alleged crimes, a federal judge ruled.

Mo Yun, 42, and her brother are among seven people facing charges for allegedly plotting to steal patented seeds from corn fields in Iowa and Illinois, and send them to China to be reproduced. Prosecutors say more than $500 million worth of intellectual property was stolen from Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto, and LG Seeds.

Mo and her brother were arrested this year in the U.S and are scheduled to be tried together in Iowa. The other five suspects are believed to be in China, which has no extradition agreements with the U.S.

Her attorneys recently argued that most of the evidence alleges crimes committed after she left the company in 2008, including allegations of digging in cornfields to find seeds and shipping them out of the country in 2011 and 2012. Trying them together would allow jurors to hear evidence unrelated to Mo and could sway jurors, defence attorney Terry Bird argued.

Bird also said evidence against Mo includes excerpts from purported online conversations that cannot be authenticated and statements she made to investigators before she was told of her right to remain silent.

But a judge on Friday sided with Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum, who argued that brother and sister should be tried together to avoid all sides having to go through “the same lengthy, complicated trial twice.” The judge acknowledged that evidence was substantially thinner against Mo, but said that wasn’t enough to hold separate trials.

A spokesman in the U.S. attorney’s office in Des Moines declined comment on Wednesday. Bird did not respond to messages.

All seven suspects are Chinese nationals who were working for a seed subsidiary of China-based DBN Group when the alleged crimes occurred. Mo’s husband is DBN Group Chairman Shao Genhou, who has a net worth estimated at $1.4 billion. He has not been charged.

Mo was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in July, after visiting Disneyland with her two young children. Her brother, Mo Hailong, was charged after being arrested near Miami, Florida, where he lived.

Mo and her brother are free on bond in Des Moines. She is under a strict curfew, while he is under around-the-clock armed guard surveillance. Both must wear GPS monitors.

The judge also denied Mo’s request to return to China to visit her family next month. Prosecutors said there was no way to guarantee she would return for trial, and noted they agreed to allow her to spend October in California to consult with attorneys and visit her children.