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Canadian police charge Hydro-Québec researcher with spying for China

A Hydro-Québec truck at a hydroelectric station on the Saint Lawrence River in Beauharnois, Québec, in October 2021. (Graham Hughes/Bloomberg News)
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Canadian authorities have charged a researcher at the country’s largest electric utility with espionage for allegedly trying to obtain trade secrets for China, according to police.

The Hydro-Québec employee, 35-year-old Yuesheng Wang, is set to appear in court Tuesday to face four charges, including obtaining trade secrets, unauthorized computer use and breach of trust by a public officer, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said after his arrest.

While Wang was working at the crown corporation, the RCMP said in a statement, he “allegedly obtained trade secrets to benefit the People’s Republic of China, to the detriment of Canada’s economic interests.”

Police said foreign espionage attempts are a top concern. RCMP Inspector David Beaudoin told reporters it was the first time the trade secrets charge had been laid under the Security Information Act of Canada. The charge carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

Beaudoin said interference by foreign actors that could affect national security has “recently been gaining a lot of traction” in police operations. “We are more and more active in that sphere,” he said.

Hydro-Québec uses water power to generate electricity not only for the French-speaking province but also customers in New York and New England.

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Beaudoin said Wang, who is from a Montreal suburb, allegedly used information without the knowledge of his employer in crimes that took place between 2018 and October this year. He said the employee had “used his position to conduct research” for a Chinese university and research centers in China — a dominant supplier in the global electric vehicle battery market.

Hydro-Québec said Wang had worked at its Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage, a research unit that develops battery materials for electric vehicles and energy storage systems. The center has previously teamed up with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Police said a complaint from the company’s security branch sparked an investigation in August.

The utility company described him as a researcher whose “work related to battery materials” but said he did not have access to Hydro-Québec’s “core mission,” without providing further details. It said his access at work was revoked once the suspicions emerged and that he had since been fired.

“No organization is safe from a situation like this one, which is why we must always remain vigilant and transparent,” Senior Corporate Security Director Dominic Roy said.

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Canada, which has sought to ramp up production of electric vehicle batteries, ordered three Chinese companies earlier this month to divest from the Canadian critical minerals sector, citing national security.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that Wang had worked at the power utility since 2016 and that officers had arrested him Monday at his home.