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UPDATE 1-U.S. charges former Alphabet engineer with stealing self-driving car secrets

Alexandria Sage and Dan Levine

secrets@ (Adds background, lawyers not available for comment, PIX available)

Aug 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed criminal charges against Anthony Levandowski, accusing the former high-ranking Alphabet Inc engineer of stealing the company's self-driving car technology before joining rival Uber Technologies Inc.

Lawyers for Levandowski were not immediately available for comment.

Levandowski had left Alphabets Waymo unit in early 2016 and eventually took over Ubers self-driving car project before Uber fired him.

A protracted legal battle over Levandowski has cost Uber precious time in its self-driving car project, which is important to its long-term profitability.

The 33 criminal charges against Levandowski largely mirror allegations that Waymo made in a civil lawsuit filed against Uber in 2017. Uber settled that case last year.

Levandowski did not publicly comment on Waymos allegations at the time, nor was he a party to that lawsuit.

Before leaving Waymo, Levandowski downloaded thousands of files in 2015 related to Alphabets self-driving car technology - including details related to Lidar, a crucial sensor technology for self-driving cars, according to the indictment.

Since leaving Uber, Levandowski has started another self-driving software company. (Reporting by Daniel Levine and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Bill Rigby and Bill Berkrot)