Chinese national receives 18-month sentence for stealing US semiconductor trade secrets

He was one of six individuals that were indicted, with the remaining five currently labelled as fugitives by the US government.

A Chinese national has been sentenced to 18 months in US prison by the District Court of Northern California for stealing trade secrets from semiconductor companies Avago and Skyworks.

The charged individual, Hao Zhang, was found to have stolen trade secrets such as semiconductor recipes, source code, specifications, presentations, design layouts, and other confidential information from these companies.

The original indictment had pressed charges against Zhang and five other Chinese nationals, but only Zhang will face prison time. 

The other five individuals are currently labelled as fugitives and are not based in the United States. 

According to the indictment, Zhang and Wei Pang -- one of the charged individuals -- had met at the University of Southern California (USC) during their studies. They then worked as semiconductor engineers at Skyworks and Avago, respectively, and stole trade secrets. 

These trade secrets were then shared with Tianjin University to enable the construction of a semiconductor fabrication plant and a China-based semiconductor business, the indictment explained.

In addition to facing prison time, Zhang was ordered by District Judge Edward Davila to pay around $477,000 in restitution to the two semiconductor companies. 

Davila's decision brings an end to a case that was unsealed in 2015, when Zhang and the other individuals were charged. Zhang was arrested in the same year upon arriving at the Los Angeles International airport from China. 

The court verdict follows the Department of Justice earlier this week pressing charges against another Chinese national for allegedly destroying evidence in relation to a separate investigation into the potential illegal transfer of US technology to China. 

There has been a surge of these investigations since 2018, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray, when the DoJ launched the China Initiative campaign to counter and investigate Beijing's economic espionage. 

"The FBI has about a thousand investigations involving China's attempted theft of US-based technology in all 56 of our field offices and spanning just about every industry and sector," Wray said earlier this year.

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