2 engineers sentenced for espionage

Case goes back to 2001 when the men, who had worked at Sun Microsystems, Transmeta, NEC, and Trident, were trying to smuggle chip design documents out of the U.S. and into China.

Two Silicon Valley engineers from China have been sentenced to prison for stealing chip designs and attempting to smuggle them back into their native country, the Associated Press reported.

The two men, Fei Ye and Ming Zhong, pleaded guilty two years ago. They were sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. According to the AP, they are the first ones convicted of the most serious violations under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.

Ye is a U.S. citizen, the AP said, and Zhong is a permanent resident of the U.S.

Prosecutors did not allege that China's government actually knew of the crime.

The case started in late 2001 when the two men were arrested at San Francisco International Airport. They had been trying to board a plane with suitcases full of chip design documents from four companies they'd worked at, the AP said.

The four companies: NEC Electronics, Sun Microsystems, Transmeta, and Trident Microsystems. Ye and Zhong had been employed at Transmeta and Trident. Ye also had jobs at NEC and Sun.

Prosecutors said documents showed Ye and Zhong were trying to sell the idea of the start-up as a way to boost China's chipmaking abilities.

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