A former Google software engineer, Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, faces charges in the US for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to artificial intelligence (AI) while secretly working for two Chinese companies.

Ding was indicted in California on four charges and arrested on Wednesday for allegedly taking more than 500 confidential files. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines per count.

According to the indictment, Ding, hired by Google in 2019, allegedly began uploading Google's supercomputing data center infrastructure information to a personal account in May 2022. During this time, he also worked for a startup in China and started his own tech firm focusing on AI and machine learning.

Prosecutors claim Ding failed to disclose his work for these companies to Google. His actions were uncovered when Google noticed unauthorized file uploads and suspicious activity. Google has strict safeguards against such theft and promptly alerted the authorities upon discovering the alleged wrongdoing.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland stated on Wednesday that Linwei Ding aimed to enrich himself by clandestinely working for companies seeking an advantage in the AI technology race, emphasizing the Justice Department's zero-tolerance stance on theft of advanced technologies that could jeopardize national security.

FBI Director Christopher Wray characterized Ding's alleged actions as a testament to the lengths Chinese companies will go to in order to pilfer American innovation. This incident underscores the ongoing bitter trade battle between the US and China, where both nations vie for a competitive edge, marked by tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of each other's goods.

Under the Biden administration, trade relations have further deteriorated, with the imposition of new barriers, including restrictions on computer chip exports, exacerbating tensions between the two economic powerhouses.