French fear Chinese 'spy' copied new car details

3rd May 2005, Comments 0 comments

VERSAILLES, France, May 3 (AFP) - French police on Tuesday were analyzing the computer files of a 22-year-old Chinese woman placed under investigation on suspicion of spying on her employer, French car parts maker Valeo.

VERSAILLES, France, May 3 (AFP) - French police on Tuesday were analyzing the computer files of a 22-year-old Chinese woman placed under investigation on suspicion of spying on her employer, French car parts maker Valeo.  

The woman, identified as Li Li Whuang, was placed in preventive detention last week and later thrown behind bars on Friday after Valeo filed a complaint for "abuse of confidence" and "illegal database intrusion".  

Being placed under investigation in France is one step short of being formally charged.  

The Chinese national, who has denied the accusations, had worked since February as an intern in Valeo's research and development division in the southwest Paris suburbs.  

At the same time, the woman - who already holds diplomas in mathematics, applied physics and fluid mechanics - was studying at a university in Compiegne, northeast of the French capital.  

During a search of the woman's home on Friday, police found six computers and two hard drives with a "huge capacity" that contained material considered confidential by Valeo's management.  

It is believed that the woman may have copied features of a number of cars made by different companies that are still on the drawing board.  

"She was a good little soldier," a source close to the investigation said Tuesday, adding that preliminary evidence taken from the computers implicated the woman.  

Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai, on a visit to Paris, said he was unfamiliar with the details of the case, but told reporters: "If it turned out to be true, it would be truly regrettable."  

Valeo chief executive Thierry Morin told a shareholders' meeting that it was up to the French courts to resolve the matter, adding: "Let's not use the term 'industrial espionage'."  

"A young person was caught with a laptop containing information on which she was working," said the head of Valeo, which has nine joint ventures in China.  

"At Valeo, we have a very strict rule which states that work-related data must remain at official work stations and not on laptops. We immediately implemented security measures and launched a legal complaint," Morin explained.  

But one company source who asked not to be named told the French newspaper Liberation: "One thing is certain - she had access to confidential files and she copied computer files that she later brought home with her."  

The Chinese woman first raised the suspicions of an executive, who noticed that she frequently walked around the office with her laptop computer.  

She also spent "much too much time at the computers, more than she needed to spend to complete her assignments," the source told Liberation.  

The company filed a formal complaint last Tuesday, and the woman - who had lived in France for three years - was taken into preventive custody on Wednesday.  

A source close to the inquiry described the woman, who speaks German, Spanish, English, French and some Arabic, as "brilliant" and of "exceptional competence".  

"For the time being, we don't know exactly what data she might have copied," another anonymous source at Valeo told Le Parisien newspaper.  

"Our interns don't just make photocopies. We assign them to work on interesting subjects that are more or less confidential, especially if they are exceptionally bright," the source said.  

Valeo said last month that it expected its sales in China to rise five-fold to EUR 1.3 billion (USD 1.67 billion) by 2010. It recorded sales of EUR 250 million in China last year.  

The auto parts maker is looking for more partnerships in China, particularly in the wiring and security systems business, to expand on its nine joint ventures, Morin told reporters in Beijing in April.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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