Three charged over Coca-Cola trade secrets theft

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Three people have been arrested in America for stealing top secret
documents from Coca-Cola and attempting to sell them to its
arch-rival, PepsiCo.

PepsiCo said it alerted Coca-Cola after it received an e-mail from a man calling himself 'Dirk', offering "very detailed and confidential information"​ that only a few top Coca-Cola executives had seen.

The case is a warning to food and drink firms to be continuously on their guard against industrial espionage.

Video surveillance set up jointly by the FBI and Coca-Cola allegedly taped Joya Williams, an executive administrative assistant at Coke, stuffing files and a liquid container, believed to be a new product sample, into her bag.

The FBI said it believed Williams, 41, was passing information on to 'Dirk', who it revealed as 30-year-old Ibrahim Dimson, from Bronx in New York.

An undercover FBI agent allegedly met Dimson in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where Dimson handed over a brown bag containing classified Coca-Cola documents and a new product sample. He was paid an initial $30,000 (€23,500), with another $45,000 to be paid later.

The FBI claimed Dimson then left the airport with the third suspect, Edmund Duhaney, aged 43 and from Decatur, and that the two set up a joint bank account later that day.

The three suspects were due to appear before Atlanta magistrates on Thursday.

Coca-Cola later confirmed that Dimson had indeed gained access to 'valid trade secrets', and that the product sample involved was a genuine product under development.

PepsiCo, which recently overtook Coca-Cola in market value for the first time in 112 years of competition, was praised by US lawyer David Nahmias for alerting its arch-rival to the espionage.

"Theft of trade secrets will not be tolerated, not by the Justice Department and not even by competitors, as this case shows,"​ he said.

The FBI has estimated that US firms lose a combined $100bn per year through industrial espionage, according to a report in this month's World Finance​ magazine.

The Coca-Cola case is, however, more of a traditional spy drama. Most analysts predict that internet hackers will be the main threat to companies' trade secrets in the future.

So-called cyber attacks have become much more sophisticated over the last year, according to a recent report by internet security group Counterpane & Messagelabs.

"Cyber attacks will cause greater damage to corporations in the coming years,"​ warned Bruce Schneier, founder and chief technology officer at Counterpane. "We estimate that some malware with a modest infection rate could cost a small company $83,000 per year."

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