Shanshan Du and Yu Qin, the husband-and-wife crime duo found guilty of stealing trade secrets from General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM), are scheduled to be sentenced in a federal court in Detroit on Tuesday.
The couple face up to 10 years in prison after investigators charged the couple in 2006 with stealing thousands of electronic documents related to GM hybrid vehicle control systems.
Months after Du, an engineer, left GM in 2005, her husband, Qin, was trying to sell hybrid vehicle technology to a Chinese car company through a business he set up called Millennium Technology International, according to prosecutors.
When the couple caught wind of an investigation into their actions, they attempted to destroy the evidence, but they were arrested in the act. Investigators do not believe the couple succeeded in passing off trade secrets before they were arrested.
The couple was found guilty of stealing trade secrets and obstructing justice on Nov. 30. According to Bloomberg News, the couple was trying to sell the intellectual property to Chery Automobile Co., Ltd., one of the country’s top automakers with a global sales footprint in the Middle East and South America.
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This isn’t the first time GM and Chery have been involved in a row over alleged industrial theft. In 2002, the U.S. automaker accused Chery numerous times to no avail of borrowing too heavily from the Chevrolet Spark for its QQ minicar.
For GM, this case is something of a vindication of its complaints about Chinese copycats. In a strongly worded letter last week to U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani, John Calabrese, GM vice president for global vehicle engineering, asked for the maximum 10-year sentence against the former GM employee and her husband, according to the Associated Press.
GM is the largest foreign automaker in China through its various partnerships, so any appropriation of GM’s intellectual property would be in direct competition with the company’s hybrid sales in China. GM has 12 auto-related joint ventures in China, including vehicle manufacturing partnerships with three of Chery’s competitors in the Chinese market: SAIC Motor Corp. Limited, the country’s No. 1 auto company, Wuling Automobile Co. Ltd. and FAW Group.