Six former and current engineers for German chemicals giant BASF have been arrested in Taiwan on suspicion of leaking valuable technology to a competitor in China, authorities said yesterday.
Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) released a statement saying the suspects were involved in a plot "to leak crucial technology and manufacturing processes... to make illegal profits."
An official with knowledge of the investigation said the group allegedly sold the trade secrets to Jiangyin Jianghua Microelectronics Materials, a tech company based in China's eastern Jiangsu province, pocketing $1.3 million.
"The technology involved in the case has an estimated market value of 100 million euros ($114 million) although the suspects were caught before they could sell the most confidential information," the official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
The CIB did not provide a breakdown of how many suspects were working for BASF at the time of the arrests but they said they included "high ranking" officials including at least one at factory director level. In a statement on its local website BASF said one current local employee was under investigation.
"We have taken immediate steps to support the investigation led by local law enforcement officials and protect the relevant information," the company said.
The arrests come as U.S. President Donald Trump spars with China over its alleged theft of U.S. technological know-how, one of a litany of grievances in his trade war with the Asian power.
In March, Trump imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports from China for punishment over alleged IP theft, which the U.S. says costs its companies as much as $600 billion a year.
China has denied the allegations and has taken steps to improve IP protections in recent years, including establishing specialized courts to handle matters including patent disputes, copyright and trademark infringement.
But a recent report by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer's office accused China of continuing a campaign of state-backed cyber-attacks on American companies.
Employees at Taiwanese companies have previously faced allegations of trade theft benefiting China.
In October 2018, the U.S. restricted sales of crucial technology to China's state-owned chipmaker Fujian Jinhua, accusing it of stealing trade secrets from U.S.-based semiconductor giant Micron with the help of officials from Taiwan's United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC). A year earlier, five former employees of Taiwan's local Micron subsidiary were charged with passing trade secrets to China.