Jailed S Korean Chip Executive Protests Innocence

Seoul, South Korea. Image credit: Ethan Brooke/Pexels

Jailed former Samsung executive denies stealing chip industry secrets as South Korean prosecutors plan to begin trial later this month

A jailed South Korean former Samsung chip executive has outlined his defence strategy as the country prepares to put him on trial on 12 July for stealing trade secrets from Samsung to build a plant in China.

In a handwritten letter sent to Reuters, his first communication to media since his arrest on 25 May, Choi Jinseog alleged weaknesses in the case made by prosecutors, who say he planned to build a plant for Foxconn in Xian, China near an existing Samsung plant and using secret Samsung information.

Choi said the planned factory was for early test produciton of DRAM memory chips and was substantially different from the existing Samsung plant in Xian that makes NAND flash memory.

DRAM manufacture is more than 30 percent different from NAND as it is more complicated, and some equipment used in manufacturing the two types of chips is also different, Choi told the news agency.

chip, semiconductor, samsung
Image credit: Samsung Electronics

Trade secrets

“They use different equipment and the layout of [Samsung’s] NAND flash chip equipment is really of no use for us,” he wrote.

The plant was intended for research purposes, unlike Samsung’s plant which is aimed at mass production and contains no R&D facility, Choi said.

“When there is no R&D fab to copy, there is no reason to copy,” he wrote.

Choi said the planned Foxconn plant – which was never built after Foxconn pulled out – was intended for Qingdao and not Xian, although Xian was one of the cities evaluated.

He previously said through his lawyer that the information he gathered in preparing to build the plant was non-sensitive data that was easily available to anyone in the chip supply chain.

Tech conflict

Prosecutors have accused Choi of illegally obtaining “core national technology” for unauthorised export and said he caused $200 million (£157m) in damages to Samsung.

The export of chip technology to China is currently a sensitive issue as the US pressures allies including South Korea and Japan to bar China from advancing its semiconductor industry.

The Netherlands on Friday brought in new restrictions on exporting advanced chipmaking equipment to China following months of US pressure.