ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A South Korean company and five of its employees are accused in an indictment of stealing the recipe from the DuPont Co. to the high-tech fiber used to make Kevlar body armor, prosecutors announced Thursday.
The indictment in U.S. District Court in Richmond alleges that Kolon Industries engaged in a seven-year conspiracy to steal secrets on the manufacturing process for Kevlar and a similar product called Twaron produced by a large Japanese chemical company, Teijin Limited. The alleged corporate espionage attempts against Teijin were unsuccessful, prosecutors said.
Kolon would hire current and former DuPont employees as "consultants" who would provide confidential information about Kevlar, including its polymerization process and details of the manufacturing process, according to the indictment. Kevlar is made at a factory in Richmond, among other locations.
Kolon used those secrets to improve its process for making Heracron, a product that competes with Kevlar, according to the indictment.
Jeff Randall, a lawyer in the U.S. who represents Kolon, said the company disputes the allegations. He said Kolon is a well-respected company in Korea with thousands of employees and that the vast majority of the technical data at question in the case comes from expired and outdated DuPont patents and was legally available to Kolon.
Kevlar fiber is used not only in body armor but in fiber-optic cables, brake pads and a host of other industrial materials. Sales of Kevlar and a cousin material called Nomex generate about $1.5 billion annually for Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride, whose office is prosecuting the case, called the indictment a "major case of industrial espionage" at a news conference in Alexandria.