DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A judge has dismissed charges against the wife of a Chinese billionaire who was accused of conspiring to steal trade secrets from U.S. seed companies.
The order signed Tuesday instructs the government to return Mo Yun's passport and immediately stop "all court-directed electronic monitoring," meaning she can return to China. The order came at the request of prosecutors, who said their case against Mo was largely based on computer messages that the judge said couldn't be used during her trial.
Investigators allege that Mo helped her brother and five other Chinese nationals working for subsidiaries of Beijing-based DBN Group steal patented corn seed to reproduce its genetic traits. The government said the intellectual property of U.S. seed companies including Pioneer and Monsanto is worth an estimated $500 million.
Some of the defendants were accused of stealing seeds from Iowa cornfields and shipping them out of the country in 2011 and 2012. Attorneys for Mo, who was arrested while vacationing with her young children in California last year, said the crimes occurred after she left the company in 2008 and that evidence against her was weak.
Mo plans to leave the U.S. this week, according to her Los Angeles-based attorneys, Terry Bird and Gary Lincenberg. They said the charges should have never been brought and criticized federal prosecutors for increasingly criminalizing trade secret activities that have traditionally been enforced through lawsuits between private parties.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt, whose office is prosecuting the case, said he had no comment.
No charges were filed against Mo's husband, DBN Group Chairman Shao Genhou, whose net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion.
Mo's brother is now the only implicated DBN Group employee to face trial. The five others are believed to be in China, which has no extradition agreement with the U.S. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 14.
Prosecutors asked that the charges against Mo be dropped after Judge Stephanie Rose ruled on July 17 that investigators couldn't use instant messages found on her brother's computer. Rose said the messages were incomplete, copied into a word processing file and couldn't be authenticated. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the messages were a significant part of their case. They asked the court to drop the charges without prejudice, leaving open the possibility of reinstating charges.
Mo and her brother were scheduled to go on trial together in Iowa. Both were free on bond but ordered to wear ankle bracelets.
Her brother, Mo Hailong, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was living in Florida before his arrest. He is accused of traveling to the Midwest to work with other employees of the company to take corn seed, and was arrested in December 2013.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the office had no comment on the dismissal. Mo Yun's attorney did not immediately respond to messages.
Follow David Pitt on Twitter at https://twitter.com/davepitt