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Alleged Chinese spy detained in Quebec seeks bail, says he wants to clear name

LONGUEUIL, Que. — A former employee of Quebec's power utility charged with spying on behalf of China denied on Thursday that he is a flight risk and said he intends to remain in Canada to fight the charges.
A Hydro-Québec logo is seen on the public utility's head office building, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

LONGUEUIL, Que. — A former employee of Quebec's power utility charged with spying on behalf of China denied on Thursday that he is a flight risk and said he intends to remain in Canada to fight the charges.

"I want to stay here to clear my name," Yuesheng Wang told the court during the second day of a bail hearing at the courthouse in Longueuil, Que., south of Montreal.

The 35-year-old has been detained since his Nov. 14 arrest by the RCMP. Federal prosecutors oppose his release because they fear he will flee the country and argued Thursday that the hearing had done nothing to change their assessment of that risk.

Wang, a resident of Candiac, Que., south of Montreal, is the first person to be charged with economic espionage under Canada's Security of Information Act, and he also faces three charges under the Criminal Code for fraudulent use of a computer, fraudulently obtaining a trade secret and breach of trust.

The RCMP allege that the former Hydro-Québec employee 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.

Until he was fired this month, Wang was a researcher who worked on battery materials with the utility's Centre of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage. The centre develops technology for electric vehicles and energy-storage systems.

Since Wednesday, the court has heard some of the evidence gathered in the course of the RCMP investigation. Wang's lawyer, Gary Martin, did not seek a publication ban.

"For many reasons, he feels he's being charged unjustly, and the recriminations made against him … what they say or allege against him, isn't truthful," Martin said outside the courtroom. "He's entitled to fight back." 

Wang is alleged to have used his Hydro-Québec email account to transfer to his personal email address confidential documents and unauthorized photos of the lab he worked in southeast of Montreal.

Wang worked largely on his own as a researcher. Among the documents he is alleged to have sent to himself are two from confidential Hydro-Québec projects — one dubbed "Project X" and another called "Uniform, " a collaboration with the U.S. military in which Wang was not involved.

He told the court that the information he is alleged to have sent was "open source." He said he took photos of the lab using his cellphone but did so to show security flaws to his colleagues. He admitted, however, to seeing signs in the lab forbidding photography.

When confronted with patents in China that included his name, Wang told the court he was surprised his name was on them. He acknowledged that he had applied for teaching posts at Chinese universities, but Martin said that given Wang's expertise in batteries, it wasn't surprising he would be looking for other work.

Wang, a Chinese national on a work visa for his job with the Quebec utility, said he was recruited by a Quebec researcher during a conference in China and hadn't been sent by the Chinese government. He admitted to being a member of China's ruling Communist party but said he had not paid his yearly dues in a while.

Wang offered his Candiac home and a downtown condominium as assurance that he would remain in Canada. He has no family in the country and a limited social life that includes work and a hiking group, he said.

His girlfriend of just under two years, Ayun Feng Zheng, told the court she would act as a surety to ensure Wang abides by the court's conditions, should he be released. But she said she had no money to offer and is also a Chinese citizen.

"I truly believe he will stay to prove he didn't do those things," she told the court. "His academic achievement is something he's really proud of and also cares about a lot … to continue his beloved academic work, I think he will stay in order to clear his name and get fair treatment from Hydro-Québec and this country."

Quebec court Judge Marco LaBrie will render a judgment on Monday morning. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press