A Temple physics professor is denying that he shared trade secrets with China, his native country.
Federal prosecutors are charging the world-renowned technology expert with wire fraud and aiding and abetting for allegedly leaking sensitive information overseas.
Professor Xiaoxing Xi is a computer circuit expert who has researched how to improve computing speeds. Prosecutors say he leaked secret research information related to superconductors in a project funded by the Department of Defense to explore acceleration of computer circuit speeds.
Xi’s actions, federal officials say, occurred from 2004 to 20012, and included sharing secret information with associates and the Chinese government, despite signing confidentiality agreements, according to the indictment. It was, prosecutors say, “an effort to help Chinese entities become world leaders in the field of superconductivity.”
It was a scheme to land a lucrative job in China, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Xi faces a theoretical maximum sentence of 80 years in prison, but his actual punishment, if convicted, would likely be much shorter.
Experts view the charges as part of a broader strategy adopted by the Justice Department that has placed pressure on federal district offices to nab individuals suspected of leaking trade secrets.
When Xi went scouting for an attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, a Washington, D.C.-based former prosecutor, was a good bet. In one high-profile case, Zeidenberg was able to unravel the government’s theory that a trade secret had been surreptitiously sent to China.
An Ohio woman working for the National Weather Service, originally from China, was vindicated after prosecutors dismissed her espionage charges in March with the help of Zeidenberg.
The government’s case against that woman and the one against Xi are similar, although the charges are different. Still, in both cases, prosecutors allege sensitive information was leaked to China to give the country an edge in technological research.
Zeidenberg said the charges against Xi, like those in the Ohio case, rest on sketchy and inconclusive evidence.
“I find it very hard to imagine that if this was a French company, if these emails were with a French company, that this would have ever have gotten any attention from anyone,” he said.
Xi, now free on $100,000 bail, has been arraigned and is awaiting a trial date. He will not be serving as the chair of Temple’s physics department while he deals with the charges.