SolarWorld calls for US probe of alleged Chinese spy attack

SolarWorld has filed a request with the U.S. Department of Commerce for an investigation into the trade implications of the Chinese military’s alleged cyber-spying on the company. SolarWorld said the alleged spying occurred while it was litigating its original trade cases against the Chinese government and state-backed solar manufacturers.

The company is asking the Commerce Department to question the Chinese government about whether and how its solar producers benefitted from the computer espionage. It also requested that the department review current cases and consider sanctions against the Chinese government.

In May, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of five Chinese military officers for alleged spying attacks on five U.S. companies and a labor union, four of which had mounted trade cases against China. The indictment accused the military personnel of intercepting thousands of SolarWorld emails containing secret financial, production, research-and-development and trade-litigation details from May to September 2012. The documents included trade-case submissions that contained propriety corporate data bearing special confidentiality protections.

"Collectively, the data stolen from SolarWorld would have enabled a Chinese competitor to target SolarWorld’s business operations aggressively from a variety of angles," the indictment notes.

According to its 10-page submission to the Commerce Department filed on July 1, SolarWorld said, "It is imperative … that the Department further investigate the effects of the espionage on this proceeding and determine the extent of harm to SolarWorld’s competitive position as a result of this (government)-backed theft of proprietary and privileged information by issuing additional questionnaires to the (Chinese government) …."

SolarWorld has led an aggressive campaign in the U.S. and European Union against Chinese dumping of crystalline silicon photovoltaic products that has resulted in legal victories on both sides of the Atlantic for the company headquartered in Bonn, Germany.

In 2012, the U.S. government imposed punitive duties averaging 31% on Chinese solar imports. However, Chinese manufacturers were able to use a loophole that allowed them to bypass the import tariffs by using non-Chinese solar cells in their panels. The Commerce Department announced plans last month to impose new import tariffs on PV modules from China — ranging from 18.56% to 35.21% — aimed at closing the loophole.

SolarWorld has also called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to take action over spy attack.