Zhang Xiaolang joined in May 2018 and was arrested in the US in July 2018 before returning to China.

(Image credit: CnEVPost)

Zhang Xiaolang, a former Apple employee previously accused of stealing trade secrets from the iPhone maker's automotive division before joining XPeng Motors, has pleaded guilty to charges in US federal court in San Jose, according to a report from Sina Tech today.

Court documents show that Zhang's plea agreement with the US government is confidential.

After pleading guilty to theft of trade secrets, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing in the case is scheduled for November.

Zhang is accused of downloading internal documents about Apple's car program, which totaled 25 pages and contained engineering schematics for a car circuit board.

He is also accused of stealing reference manuals and PDF documents about Apple's prototype products.

According to the charging documents, Zhang began working at Apple in 2015 and worked primarily on the automotive team as a hardware engineer.

In April 2018, after Zhang took paternity leave and traveled to China, Apple began to suspect him of stealing trade secrets. He returned to the company at that time and submitted his resignation letter, saying that he wished to return to China to care for his mother.

He also told his supervisor at the time that he was going to work at XPeng. In May 2018, Zhang left Apple and processed his onboarding at XPeng's Silicon Valley office.

On July 7, 2018, Zhang bought a last-minute ticket for a flight to China from San Jose International Airport, and the FBI arrested him at that time.

In a July 11, 2018, report, local media outlet The Paper cited XPeng's response that Zhang did join the company and that he signed intellectual property compliance documents at the time. There was no record of him reporting any sensitivities or violations, the company said.

XPeng sealed Zhang's computers and office supplies as required after learning of the US investigation on June 27, the company said at the time, adding that it would actively cooperate with relevant investigations on the matter.

The latest report comes as XPeng is set to report its second-quarter earnings in a few hours, when the company's executives are expected to face challenges on the issue in a conference call.

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