WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing trade secrets from U.S. petroleum company Phillips 66 (PSX.N), where he worked on the research and development of next generation battery technologies, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Hongjin Tan, 36, stole information regarding the manufacture of a “research and development downstream energy market product” that is worth more than $1 billion, the department said in a statement. The department identified the company where he worked as Phillips 66 in court documents filed in Oklahoma.
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 co-worker 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.