Supermarket sweep


American politics is agog at allegations that Donald Trump has shared classified information with the Russians. Over in China the spying scandal of the moment is less about leaking state secrets, and more about making chilli sauce.

Police in Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province, announced last week that they had arrested a former staffer of Laoganma, the producer of China’s bestselling chilli sauce, on allegations of leaking commercial secrets. According to local media, an investigation had been going on for a year after Laoganma employees found products on supermarket shelves that were extremely similar to the company’s signature sauce. A fuller search determined that its trade secrets were being stolen by a knock-off product manufactured by a competitor with no track record of making the sauce.

The suspect, surnamed Jia, had worked as a technician at Laoganma for more than 10 years. Having previously signed a confidentiality agreement with his employer, Jia is now facing criminal charges and could end up with a seven-year prison term plus a hefty fine.

Laoganma in Chinese translates rather unexpectedly into “old and dry granny” (the Chinese meaning also implies something spicy). But the company’s founder Tao Huabi, at 70, has also been dubbed as “China’s hottest woman” because of the hugely popular fiery sauce she invented (see WiC143). Tao says she has to be vigilant that others don’t steal the secrets of her success. “I have been fighting internal moles and spies for decades,” she reportedly told reporters following Jia’s arrest.

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