2 men convicted for selling 'Oreo' white pigment secret to China

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by Susanna Kim

ABC News

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 7 at 5:37 PM

(ABC News) -- The FBI is making a firm stand against corporate espionage while protecting a chemical that is reportedly used in one of America's most beloved cookies.

Two men were convicted this week of conspiring to sell abroad trade secrets related to Oreo's secret recipe.

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Oreo is owned by the Mondelez International, based in Deerfield, Ill., but the conviction by a federal jury in San Francisco this week involves trade secrets from E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., whose headquarters is in Delaware.

"This was a very important case for the U.S. government to bring," Stanley L. Friedman, a former federal prosecutor, told "Good Morning America." "It was a shot heard around the world and it's a message to foreign countries they can't spy on the U.S."

Du Pont's chloride-route titanium dioxide, or TiO2, is a "valuable" white pigment that has been used in materials such as paints, plastics, paper, the government's indictment states. A similar chemical reportedly is used in the creamy filling of Oreo cookies.

The jury found Walter Lian-Heen Liew and Robert Maegerle guilty of conspiring to steal trade secrets from DuPont regarding their titanium dioxide technology and sold those secrets for "large sums of money," allegedly more than $20 million in total, to state-owned companies of the People's Republic of China, the FBI said.

Since DuPont invented the chemical in the 1940s, the company accounts for about one-fifth of all global TiO2 sales, the indictment said. The world's largest producer of TiO2 pigment manufactures it at plants in the United States, Mexico and Taiwan.

 Mondelez did not respond to a request for comment.

"The verdict underscores the consequences faced by those who steal trade secrets, and we appreciate the efforts of the DOJ and the FBI," DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said. "DuPont will continue to take aggressive steps to preserve our technological edge, including cooperating with governments and law enforcement agencies around the world."

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