French prosecutors are investigating a clutch of French and Chinese citizens accused of sharing key semiconductor technologies with foreign powers including China and Russia.
(Bloomberg) — French prosecutors are investigating a clutch of French and Chinese citizens accused of sharing key semiconductor technologies with foreign powers including China and Russia.
Four people face prosecution, including two who are being pursued for allegedly sharing documents with a foreign power, which is likely to harm the interests of the French state, said a person who asked not to be identified because the probe isn’t public. The investigation concerns suspicions of illegal exports, criminal conspiracy, forgery and misuse of corporate assets, the person said.
French newspaper Le Parisien, which first revealed the allegations, reported that the subject of the probe are executives who’ve worked for the French semiconductor company Ommic SAS, which in May was bought by US-based Macom Technology Solutions Holdings Inc.
The French industry minister Roland Lescure told Sud Radio on Thursday that the alleged perpetrators have been stopped and are now being investigated in response to Le Parisien’s report. He didn’t provide any details on the allegations or the people targeted.
“When the government calls out and warns about the risk of industrial espionage, it’s not like playing James Bond,” Lescure said. “Economic war exists and France has the means to win it.”
The allegations emerged a day before French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire travels to China to discuss economic ties with the country, and touts France’s assets for Chinese investors. Simultaneously, President Emmanuel Macron is currently touring the South Pacific in a bid to assert France amid growing Chinese clout.
Macron Seeks Bigger French Say in Pacific as China’s Clout Grows
European countries are increasingly adopting a harsher line on China, looking at how the bloc can decrease its reliance on the country and screening Chinese investments, while still trying to maintain trade ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
According to Le Parisien, a Chinese businessman bought 94% of Ommic’s shares via a French-based investment fund in a bid to transfer technologies to China and Russia.
Ommic technologies include gallium nitride chips which can operate at a higher frequency, power and temperature than others, with broad applications including in weapons. The newspaper also reported Ommic put in place a complex scheme to transfer equipment to Russia despite the EU’s export restrictions on technology used for military purposes after the invasion of Crimea.
Macom said it had paid €38.5 million ($42.5 million) to acquire Ommic in May. Before the transaction was completed, French authorities temporarily seized Ommic, according to Le Parisien. Agrasc, the French agency reportedly responsible for the seizure, didn’t immediately return a request for comment. The finance ministry referred to Lescure’s comments. Macom couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
–With assistance from Gaspard Sebag, Benoit Berthelot and Tara Patel.
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