Former Apple car engineer pleads guilty to trade secret theft

Zhang Xiaolang downloaded a circuit board plan after disclosing intentions to work for a Chinese self-driving car startup. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A former Apple engineer on Monday (Aug 22) pleaded guilty to trade secret theft, one of two people accused of stealing trade secrets from the iPhone maker's nascent self-driving car programme.

US federal prosecutors have alleged that Zhang Xiaolang downloaded the plan for a circuit board for Apple's self-driving after disclosing his intentions to work for a Chinese self-driving car startup and booking a last-minute flight to China.

He was arrested at the San Jose airport after he passed through a security checkpoint.

Xpeng, the Chinese electric car maker that Zhang joined after leaving Apple in 2018, said on its Twitter-like Sina Weibo account on Tuesday that the company had no dispute with Apple over the issue and that it was not involved in Zhang's case in any form.

Zhang initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but according to court documents on Monday, he had reached a plea deal with prosecutors and changed his plea to guilty. The plea deal is sealed and sentencing is set for November.

Zhang's attorney confirmed the plea agreement but declined to comment further. Apple and the US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Chen Jizhong, the other former Apple engineer charged with trade secret theft, has pleaded not guilty. He has a court hearing set for Aug 29.

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