Not guilty plea entered in GE Aviation espionage case

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Chinese national pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of trying to steal trade secrets from multiple U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, including GE Aviation.

Defendant Yanjun Xu was also ordered by a magistrate judge to be detained before trial over the objections of Xu’s attorneys, who say he’s not at risk of fleeing.

“Xu has no criminal history, has been charged with non-violent, non-drug-related offenses and is not in possession of any confidential trade secret information that could now be disclosed,” his attorney, Jeanne Cors, said in a court filing earlier Friday.

Prosecutors said they want Xu moved from the Cincinnati-area jail he’s in now to a federal facility in Milan, Michigan.

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The government alleges that beginning in December 2013, Xu recruited experts who worked at aviation companies, including GE Aviation in Cincinnati. They say Xu and others would pay stipends for the experts to travel to China under the guise of delivering a university presentation.

Court papers say Xu and other operatives discussed how they would obtain “highly sensitive information” from the experts.

Xu was charged Wednesday with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. He entered a not guilty plea Friday.

Xu was detained by the government in Belgium where he spent the past six months before extradition to the United States, Cors said in Friday’s court filing. His wife and 10-year-old son obtained visas and are relocating to the U.S. to be with him during the trial, the filing said.

“These are simply not the actions of a defendant who intends to flee,” Cors said. “Nor would flight out of the country be possible given that Mr. Xu’s passport was seized in Belgium and is in the hands of the United States government.”

Prosecutors successfully argued in court Friday that Xu should be detained. When Xu’s arrest was announced Wednesday, John Demers, an assistant Attorney General for National Security, said: “This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense.”

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On Thursday, federal judge Timothy Black appointed a classified information officer to handle sensitive data during proceedings.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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