gavel.jpgA 77-year-old former DuPont scientist from Delaware has pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco to conspiring to commit economic espionage for a Chinese government-controlled steel and chemical company.

Tze Chao, of Newark, Del., entered the guilty plea Thursday before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White.

Chao was added as a defendant in a revised grand jury indictment last month in an ongoing theft of trade secrets case filed against Walter Liew, 54, and Christina Liew, 49, of Orinda, owners of an engineering consulting company.

The Liews’ company, USA Performance Technology Inc. of Oakland, and the Chinese company that allegedly sought the trade secrets, Pangang Group Company Ltd., were also added as defendants in the Feb. 7 superseding indictment.

As part of his plea bargain, Chao agreed to aid in the prosecution of the other defendants.

Chao worked for DuPont, based in Wilmington, Del., for 34 years from 1966 to 2002 and after his retirement worked as a consultant.

In his guilty plea, he admitted to providing Pangang Group confidential DuPont trade secrets about the chemical company’s titanium dioxide manufacturing process in 2008 and 2009.

Chao said in the written agreement, “Pangang Group employees, in asking me to provide DuPont trade secrets to them, overtly appealed to my Chinese ethnicity and asked me to work for the good of the People’s Republic of China.”

Chao faces a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison, but no sentencing date has been set. The plea agreement states that federal prosecutors will support a more lenient sentence if Chao cooperates truthfully in the prosecution of the other defendants.

Walter and Christina Liew are due to appear in White’s court for a status conference on Thursday.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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