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Spy charge puts cloud over China trade visit to Paris

By Martin Arnold in Paris
Published: May 3 2005 21:22 | Last updated: May 3 2005 21:22

French police have arrested a 22-year-old Chinese student for alleged industrial espionage while working at Valeo, the car parts manufacturer, casting a shadow over this week's visit to Paris by China's trade minister.

Li Li is being held in custody after police raided her house on Friday and found three computers and two hard drives containing data on Valeo's products. Prosecutors said the data included “confidential” car designs not yet brought to market.

Her arrest is an embarrassing blow to China's hopes of strengthening ties with France amid political concern about the impact of a sharp rise in imports of Chinese clothing on the French textiles industry.

Bo Xilai, China's trade minister, who is visiting Paris for this week's Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ministerial conference, said on Tuesday he was unaware of Ms Li's arrest. “If it is true, it is absolutely regrettable,” he said.

Yves Colleu, a state prosecutor in Versailles, where Ms Li is being held, said: “The worry is that she has already or was planning to transfer this data to a third party.”

Whether she was working alone or on behalf of a company or government was unclear, said Mr Colleu.

He said Ms Li who has degrees in engineering, mathematics and physics, and was gaining work experience at Valeo denied the charges of data theft, illegal entry into a computer data system and breach of trust. He said she claimed to have mistakenly copied the data after replacing the hard drive of the computer provided by the company after it ran out of memory.

Valeo has recently expressed ambitious expansion plans in China after signing a joint venture on air conditioning compressors in Changchun.

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