Former Hydro-Québec worker accused of spying for China pleads not guilty to new charges

Hydro-Quebec sign outside of their headquarters at night in Montreal, Que. Monday, September 28, 2020. Mario Beauregard/The Canadian Press

A former employee of Quebec’s hydro utility who is accused of spying on behalf of China pleaded not guilty to additional charges on Friday as his lawyers attempted to gain access to more evidence in his case.

Yuesheng Wang was arraigned on new charges of committing preparatory acts on behalf of a foreign entity and informing that entity — the People’s Republic of China — of his intentions. The RCMP had announced the two additional charges in February.

In November 2022 Wang became the first person accused of economic espionage under Canada’s Security of Information Act when he was charged with four counts, including fraudulently using a computer, fraudulently obtaining a trade secret and breach of trust.

“Everything is based on the same facts,” federal prosecutor Marc Cigana told reporters Friday. “After analyzing the file, the facts, we came to the conclusion that two other charges were warranted.”

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The RCMP’s national security enforcement team began investigating in August 2022 after they received a complaint from Hydro-Québec’s corporate security branch.

The federal police allege that Wang gave information about the public corporation to a Chinese university and Chinese research centres and that he published scientific articles and filed patents with them rather than with the public utility. Police also allege Wang used information without his employer’s consent, harming Hydro-Québec’s intellectual property.

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On Friday, Cigana told the court the crux of the case involves applications Wang allegedly made to participate in the Thousand Talents program — a recruitment tool used by the Chinese government to attract foreign-trained scientists to return to work in China.

“According to the Crown’s interpretation of those (application) documents, he seems to have been promising to transfer technology to the People’s Republic of China,” Cigana said.

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Wang, 37, who was granted bail in November 2022, entered the not guilty pleas at the courthouse in Longueuil, Que., on Montreal’s South Shore.

Recruited by the Quebec utility in 2016, Wang, a Chinese national on a work visa, was released under several conditions including that he surrender his Chinese passport, agree to GPS tracking and report to federal police every week.

Wang was a researcher who worked on battery materials with Hydro-Québec’s Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage, known as CETEES. The centre develops technology for electric vehicles and energy-storage systems.

The utility fired him in November 2022 and police arrested him fearing he would flee the country.

The resident of Candiac, Que., has denied the accusations and has said he intends to fight to clear his name. He has told the court that the privileged information he is alleged to have sent was not secret and was “open source.”

On Friday, lawyers for Wang argued for access to 78,000 email exchanges on computers the accused used when he worked at the utility. Hydro-Québec has denied access to the information since last April, defence lawyer Gary Martin said.

“My client has a right and needs it to adequately mount a defence,” Martin told reporters.

Prosecutors don’t have those documents, Cigana said, adding that the defence hasn’t convincingly argued why it needs access to them.

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“The RCMP obtained an order, a judicial order, to receive the fruits of the investigation of the internal investigation of Hydro-Québec, that’s what was sought and obtained,” Cigana said.

“Now the defence is going further and wants to have all the emails of a certain number of individuals who communicated with Mr. Wang at Hydro-Québec.”

A judge is slated to hear further arguments in early May.

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