A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing trade secrets from US petroleum company Phillips 66, where he worked on the research and development of next generation battery technologies, the US Justice Department said.
Tan was a staff scientist at Phillips 66 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, from May 2017 through December 2018. The company said in December it was cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a probe involving a “former employee at our Bartlesville location”, but declined to comment further on Tuesday.
An FBI affidavit said Phillips 66 called the agency in December 2018 to report the theft of trade secrets, around the same time that Tan told a former colleague he was going back to China. Tan was arrested before he could return.
“Tan’s guilty plea continues to fill in the picture of China’s theft of American intellectual property,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.
In his plea agreement, Tan admitted to intentionally copying and downloading research and development materials without authorisation from his employer.
Phillips 66 told the FBI in 2018 it had earned an estimated US$1.4 billion to US$1.8 billion from the unspecified technology.
The FBI found an employment agreement from a Chinese company that has developed production lines for lithium ion battery materials on Tan’s laptop.