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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department revealed Thursday that a federal grand jury has charged companies in China and Taiwan with a scheme to steal trade secrets from Micron, the Idaho-based firm that controls up to a quarter of the dynamic random access memory industry.
In addition to the companies, three individual Taiwanese nationals were charged.
Justice Department officials said it was the latest in a growing number of attempts by Chinese entities to pilfer American technology.
China is "shamelessly bent on stealing its way up the ladder of economic development and doing so at American expense," said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.
Federal prosecutors said one of the defendants served as president of a company acquired by Micron five years ago. The charges said he went to work for the Taiwan company, United Microelectronics Corporation, and orchestrated the theft of trade secrets from Micron worth nearly $9 billion.
That company, the charges said, then partnered with a Chinese state-owned business, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company, so that China could steal the technology from the United States. The random-access technology involved was not possessed by the Chinese until very recently, the Justice Department said.
Alex Tse, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, where the charges were filed, said the Chinese have not yet begun making products using the American technology.
"We are going to do everything we can to prevent the further dissemination of the unlawful stolen property," he said.
This week, the Commerce Department took action to block the Chinese company from buying goods and services in the United States, to keep it from profiting from the technology it stole. And the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit, seeking a court order that would block the Chinese and Taiwan companies from transferring the stolen technology or exporting products to the U.S. based on it.
"We are not just reacting to crimes. We are acting to block the defendants from doing any more harm to Micron," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in announcing the charges.
Sessions said he was setting up a task force in the Justice Department to devote more resources to fighting Chinese economic espionage.
"It is time for China to join the community of lawful nations. International trade has been good for China, but the cheating must stop," he said.
David Bowdich, the FBI's deputy director, said nearly every one of its 56 field offices nationwide is investigating cases of economic espionage that lead back to China.