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Press Release

Arkansas Man Pleads Guilty to Making False Statements About Plan to Steal Rice Seeds

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Wengui Yan, 61, of Stuttgart, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI while working as a geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Dale Bumpers National Research Center in Stuttgart.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord and Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall of the District for Kansas made the announcement.

Yan, a scientist who worked with rice, admitted Monday that he knew about plans to steal samples and send them to China.

In his plea, Yan admitted that on Aug. 7, 2013, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China preparing to board a plane to return home. The group had visited the facility in Stuttgart. Yan admitted that before the Chinese group arrived, a co-defendant in Kansas had asked him for seeds and Yan had declined because the seeds were protected. The co-defendant told Yan about other individuals seeking to steal samples of the seeds. When the delegation came to Stuttgart, Yan traveled with them to a rice farm where he knew they would have an opportunity to steal seeds.

After the theft, Yan denied knowing about the plans to steal the seeds or about the theft itself. Investigators also learned that Yan attempted to cover up a trip he made to China to visit the crops research institute that sent the delegation to the United States.

Sentencing will be set for a later date. Under the plea agreement, Yan faces a penalty of up to 20 months in federal prison.

Co-defendant Weiqiang Zhang, 50, of Manhattan, Kansas, is awaiting trial.

Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord and Acting U.S. Attorney Beall commended the FBI’s Little Rock and Kansas City Field Offices, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

McCord and Beall also commended Trial Attorney Matt Walczewski for the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Trial Attorneys Brian Resler and Evan Williams for the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Rask of the District of Kansas for their work on the case.

Updated July 25, 2022

Export Control
Press Release Number: 16-1254