- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2021

A federal jury in Tennessee convicted a former Coca-Cola worker in a conspiracy to commit economic espionage benefiting China stemming from her work at the soda giant.

Xiaorong You, a U.S. citizen who worked as Coca-Cola’s principal engineer for global research between 2012 and 2017, was intent on setting up a company in China with stolen trade secrets, the Justice Department said. 

“You stole valuable trade secrets related to formulations for bisphenol-A-free (BPA-free) coatings for the inside of beverage cans,” said the Justice Department, citing evidence presented at trial and in court documents, on Thursday. “You was granted access to the trade secrets while working at The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia, and Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. The stolen trade secrets belonged to major chemical and coating companies including Akzo-Nobel, BASF, Dow Chemical, PPG, Toyochem, Sherwin Williams, and Eastman Chemical Company, and cost nearly $120,000,000 to develop.”

The coating inside the cans posed fewer health risks and was designed to minimize flavor loss compared to alternatives.

The Coca-Cola Company takes the protection of trade secrets and confidential information very seriously, especially information entrusted to the company by our partners,” said Debbie Ebalobo, Coca-Cola spokesperson, in a statement. “We are aware of the verdict in Dr. You’s case and have no further details to provide.”

The Justice Department said Ms. You and her Chinese corporate partner received millions of dollars in Chinese government funding, including through its Thousand Talents Program. The government-sponsored talent-recruitment program is one way that China targets American innovation, which the FBI has said can involve the theft of trade secrets, violation of export control laws, and grant or tax fraud. 

Ms. You was not acting only for her self-interest but also for the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party, the Justice Department said. 

Ms. You is not alone in targeting U.S. research and innovation. On Thursday, the National Institutes of Health told lawmakers that more than 500 federally funded scientists are under investigation for being compromised by China and other foreign powers.

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