A former Samsung executive has been charged with stealing company secrets for a copycat computer chip factory in China, and is being held in detention pending trial, prosecutors told AFP on Tuesday.
The 65-year-old man, who has not been identified, allegedly stole Samsung trade secrets in a bid to set up a chip factory in the Chinese city of Xian — near where Samsung has a plant — the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office said in a separate statement.
The material he stole was classified as “national core technology” — innovations designated by South Korean law as potentially having a major negative impact on national security and the economy if disclosed overseas.
“He’s currently detained at the Suwon Detention Center,” the spokesperson of the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office told AFP, adding the suspect had been held for some time but only formally charged on Monday.
Securing supplies of advanced chips has become a crucial issue internationally, with the United States and China locked in a fierce battle for control of the market.
Samsung is one of the world’s largest makers of memory chips and smartphones, and its overall turnover is equivalent to about one-fifth of South Korea’s gross domestic product.
The Samsung factory blueprints and clean-room designs from 2018 and 2019 that the man allegedly tried to steal would have been worth at least 300 billion won ($236 million) to Samsung, authorities said.
“It is a serious crime that can have a tremendous negative impact on our economic security by shaking the foundation of the domestic semiconductor industry at a time when competition for chip production is intensifying day by day,” added the prosecutors’ statement, released on Monday.
“The semiconductor industry accounted for 16.5 percent of South Korea’s total exports as of 2022… and is a national security asset,” it added.
Prosecutors charged six other people who worked for the detained executive and are believed to have been involved in the theft.
The man had worked for a combined 28 years at South Korea’s leading chipmakers, and is a “top expert in semiconductor manufacturing” in the country, prosecutors said.