FBI investigates stolen Liebherr truck designs
US federal agents weigh in on industrial espionage case involving thousands of stolen documents
USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is looking into a case involving Liebherr in which the manufacturer is accusing several former workers from a Virginia facility of stealing designs for a dump truck for copycat production in China.
The lawsuit accuses Michigan firm, Detroit Heavy Truck Engineering, of spearheading the conspiracy by recruiting six workers from a Liebherr plant in the city of Newport News to pass on documents.
DHTE’s officials Liangyu "Mike" Huang, and VP Shenger "Ted" Ying then fed these to Chinese firms.
The complaint asserts that the thousands of stolen documents — from truck designs to vendor information and factory layouts — allowed the Chinese firms to build the trucks “at a fraction of the time and cost, and a fraction of the manpower as could be accomplished by lawful means.”
Up until now, the lawsuit from the Swiss company had been strictly a civil proceeding, but the FBI's recent request for numerous case documents could indicate the agency is exploring criminal charges.
The FBI recently made it a national priority to go after economic espionage, in which foreign entities — particularly those in China and Russia, the agency says — unlawfully acquire business knowledge.
Liebherr mining trucks stand nine metres tall and have a carrying capacity of 360 tonnes, dwarfing normal dump trucks, which stand three-metres tall and can carry just a tenth of the Liebherr payload.