Apple’s Worried Two Ex-Employees Accused of Stealing Secrets Will Flee the Country

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Apple told a federal court Monday that it has “deep concerns” that two former employees accused of stealing its self-driving car secrets may flee the country.

At a hearing on Monday, the Cupertino tech giant asked the court to continue monitoring the location of the two Chinese-born employees before their trial dates, Reuters reported. Here’s why.

Apple Car Secrets

Both former Apple employees are accused of stealing trade secrets from Apple, mostly related to the company’s secretive Project Titan self-driving car initiative.

The first of the two men, Xiaolang Zhang, was arrested by the FBI back in July 2018 while waiting to board a flight to China.

Zhang had worked as an engineer on Project Titan and federal prosecutors accuse him of stealing files related to the project before he told Apple he was leaving to work for a Chinese competitor.

The former employee later admitted to taking hardware components and transferring company data to his wife’s laptop over AirDrop.

Earlier this year, the FBI also arrested Jizhong Chen, an electrical engineer whom federal prosecutors allege took more than 2,000 secret files and documents from Apple’s secure databases with the intent to share them.

Like Zhang, Chen was detained by the authorities while he was on his way to the airport for a trip to China. Authorities found “thousands” of sensitive Apple files, as well as photographs taken at secure Apple facilities.

Both men were charged with one count of criminal trade secrets theft. They both pleaded not guilty and were released on bail after their arrests, though, at this point, they are currently being monitored.

Flight Risks

Apple reportedly had three employees sit in at a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, according to Reuters.

One of those employees included Anthony DeMario, an ex-CIA veteran and an adviser for Apple’s global security team. Apple also issued a statement to the court, saying that its intellectual property is “at the core of (its) innovation and growth.”

“The defendants’ continued participation in these proceedings is necessary to ensure a final determination of the facts, and we have deep concerns the defendants will not see this through if given the opportunity,” the statement read.

But while Apple itself argued for the continued monitoring of the two former employees, federal prosecutors also alleged that the two men are potential flight risks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marissa Harris said that if either man fled to China, it would be “difficult if not impossible” for authorities to secure their extradition for a trial.

Interestingly, prosecutors also say that Chen is a flight risk because authorities found classified government documents in his possession, including information pertaining to work on the Patriot Missile program.

The attorney representing the two men, Daniel Olmos, said that both had “family reasons” to visit China and that neither showed any sign of violating their pre-trial conditions.

While no trial dates have been scheduled, Reuters reported that a hearing is set for February.

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