SAN FRANCISCO • An Apple hardware engineer was charged by the United States with stealing the iPhone maker's driverless car secrets for a China-based company, the second such case since July amid an unprecedented crackdown by the Trump administration on Chinese corporate espionage.
Chen Jizhong was seen by a fellow Apple employee taking photographs on Jan 11 with a wide-angle lens inside a secure work space that houses the company's autonomous car project, about six months after he signed a strict confidentiality oath when he was hired, according to a criminal complaint in federal court in San Jose, California.
Prosecutors said Chen admitted to taking the photos and backing up some 2,000 files to his personal hard drive, including manuals and schematics for the project, but did not tell Apple he had applied for a job with a China-based autonomous vehicle company.
Apple said disclosure of the data taken by Chen would be "enormously damaging", according to prosecutors.
Among the photos seized by the government is an image stamped Dec 19 diagramming Apple's autonomous driving architecture. Another from June last year depicts an assembly drawing of a wire harness for an autonomous vehicle.
Chen told Apple investigators he had taken the pictures to support applications for jobs within the company after supervisors tagged him with a performance improvement plan, according to the complaint.
But after Apple learnt that he was seeking employment with a Chinese rival, he was suspended.
The engineer later told Apple he had intended to travel to China to visit his ill father, but was arrested last week before he could board the flight. He was released from federal custody after posting US$500,000 (S$672,000) in cash and property on Jan 25.