Former Apple car engineer pleads guilty to trade secret theft

SAN FRANCISCO — Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple engineer, pleaded guilty to trade secret theft — one of two people accused of stealing trade secrets from the iPhone maker’s nascent self-driving car program.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that Zhang downloaded the plan for a circuit board for Apple’s self-driving vehicle after disclosing his intentions to work for a Chinese autonomous car startup and booking a last-minute flight to China.

He was arrested at the San Jose airport after he passed through a security checkpoint.

Xpeng, the Chinese electric car maker Zhang joined after leaving Apple in 2018, said on its Twitter-like Sina Weibo account on Tuesday that the company had no dispute with Apple over the issue and that it was not involved in Zhang’s case in any form.

Zhang initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but according to court documents on Monday, he had reached a plea deal with prosecutors and changed his plea to guilty. The plea deal is sealed and sentencing is set for November.

Zhang’s attorney confirmed the plea agreement but declined to comment further. Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jizhong Chen, the other former Apple engineer charged with trade secret theft, has pleaded not guilty. He has a court hearing set for Aug. 29.

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