If convicted, Chen faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Another alleged Chinese spy has been caught apparently trying to steal secrets from Apple's mysterious self-driving auto project. Chen also worked directly on the project so was in a good position to nab some info.
Chen, an electrical engineer, was hired by Apple in June of past year to be part of a hardware design team working on a self-driving vehicle project at Apple, FBI special agent Adelaida Hernandez said in the filing.
The arrest took place after an Apple employee reported Chen to security officials earlier this month for taking photographs in a restricted work area.More news: State of emergency declared in U.S. measles outbreak
Chen gave permission to an Apple Global Security team to have his personal computer checked and incriminating files and pictures were found on his hard drive. However, soon after, Apple investigators found out that he had applied for a job with Chinese company Xiaopeng Automobile and was allegedly attempting to provide the Apple documents to his would-be new employer.
Apple is running one of the most secretive autonomy projects of any tech company.
Some of the photos were taken back in June of 2018, while others were taken as recently as December of previous year.
In December, Chen was put on notice by Apple that his work performance needed to improve.
The Waymo auto, formerly the Google self-driving vehicle project, pictured at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 9.More news: Amazon Revenues Climb 20 Percent to $72.4 Billion
It comes amid growing tension between the USA and China over future technologies and an ongoing trade war.
Chen was arrested just one day before he was scheduled to fly to China.
In a statement, Apple said it "takes confidentiality and the protection of our IP very seriously".
The affidavit from the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent assigned to probing Chen reveals the enormous lengths Apple has gone to keep its robo-ride project secret, including a separate building that only employees on the project itself can enter.More news: Govt doubles tax exemption for the middle class man