Coronavirus contagions in China – the pandemic’s birthplace – and Italy – the plague’s most accommodating home away from home thus far – has put on hold the federal prosecution of Xiorong You, a Chinese-born engineer who allegedly stole $119.6 million in trade secrets from Coca-Cola before accepting a job at Eastman Chemicals in Kingsport, according to court documents.

You allegedly pirated proprietary information involving can coatings that was entrusted to Coca-Cola in Atlanta. Before she was sacked at Eastman in June 2018, she allegedly stole related trade secrets there.

You’s attorney, Johnson City lawyer Thomas Jessee, reported he must travel to China to inspect a factory and meet with three witnesses – You’s codefendant and two other Chinese nationals federal prosecutors classify as unindicted coconspirators.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy C. Harker and Matthew W. Walczewski represented they must travel to Italy to interview prosecution witnesses. The alleged scheme involved laundering the can-coatings trade secrets through a shell company, and then partnering with an Italian can company for the roll-out.

For reasons that have yet to be publicly explained, the Italians walked away from the proposed deal.

“(C)ounsel will likely be required to travel abroad to take the depositions, so to refuse to continue the trial would require counsel to travel to an area against current travel recommendations,” U.S. District Judge Cynthia Richardson Wyrick wrote in an order. “The court is unwilling to put counsel in the position of risking their health or that of others in order to zealously represent their respective clients.”

The trial was scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Greeneville next week. A scheduling conference will be held to identify a new trial date. If convicted of stealing trade secrets and wire fraud, You, who is in her mid-50s, faces a bottom-of-the range sentence of 210 months, more than 17 years.

Harker objected to Jessee being allowed to call a codefendant and two alleged unindicted conspirators. Wyrick pointed out that prosecutors routinely call criminals to testify against defendants, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Wyrick quoted a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that’s considered to be authoritative on the issue.

“To think that criminals will like to save their fellows but not to obtain favors from the prosecution for themselves is to clothe the criminal class with more nobility than one might expect to find in the public at large,” the supreme court opinion states.

If the Chinese nationals participated in the alleged trade-secret crimes, Wyrick opined, capable federal prosecutors should be able to demonstrate their complicity through cross-examination.

The federal judge pointed out that Jessee being able to depose the Chinese nationals is easier said than done. In order for the depositions to proceed, the Chinese federal government will have issue so-called letters rogatory, which is basically a permission slip to question potential witnesses in a foreign court proceeding.

If the Chinese government sees any hint of state cooperation in stealing trade secrets, it will likely be hesitant to cooperate. Federal prosecutors allege the Chinese federal government and the provincial government in Shandong gave You what amounts to a $1.86 million bounty to steal the trade secrets and open a competing business in eastern China.