A former executive at Samsung Electronics is alleged to have stolen blueprints and designs in order to recreate a semiconductor plant in China, according to Korean prosecutors. The individual reportedly stole trade secrets between 2018 and 2019 to replicate the facility in the northern city of Xi’an, with funding from an unnamed Taiwanese company. The Suwon District Prosecutors Office in South Korea underscored the seriousness and extent of the crime in its statement.

A worker waters the flower garden next to the logo of Samsung Electronics at the company's headquarters in Suwon on June 13, 2023.

This situation emerges amid increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington, as the Biden administration seeks to prevent Chinese companies from obtaining advanced semiconductor technology. The case could also strain relationships between Korea and Taiwan, both crucial centers for chip production and U.S. allies supportive of American efforts to curb China's semiconductor pursuits. Taipei and Seoul are especially sensitive to attempts by China to poach chip expertise and designs central to their economies' success.

Samsung, the global market leader for smartphone and computer memory, declined to comment on the matter.

It is rare for companies to attempt to reproduce entire chipmaking facilities; usually, intellectual property cases involve the hiring of key engineers or the appropriation of crucial designs and software components. The accused executive is said to have planned to build a duplicate of a Samsung chip plant in Xi’an, but the promised $6 billion investment from the Taiwanese company did not materialize. Instead, the executive is reported to have produced trial products at a chip plant in Chengdu, using Samsung's technology, with the assistance of Chinese investors.

The defendant, who had worked at Samsung for 18 years, went on to establish multiple chip manufacturing companies in China and Singapore using Chinese and Taiwanese capital. Prosecutors claim that the former official hired more than 200 Korean chip experts and stole valuable data worth at least $233 million from Samsung. Six other individuals have been indicted as the executive's alleged accomplices.