A former Army helicopter pilot has pleaded guilty to taking thousands of dollars from China to hand over aviation-related information from his work as a defense contractor.
In addition to acting as an unregistered agent for Beijing, Shapour Moinian, 67, also pleaded guilty in federal court this week to making false statements during his national security background checks, according to the Justice Department.
“This is another example of how the Chinese government enhances its defense capabilities through the illicit exploitation of U.S. technology,” Stacey Foy, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego office, said in a statement.
Moinian served in the U.S. Army from 1977 through 2000 and later worked for several civilian defense contractors and the Department of Defense.
He was contacted by an unidentified person in China who offered him the opportunity to consult for the aviation industry in China, officials said.
“Moinian was a paid agent of the Chinese government who sold American aviation-related technology,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Moinian later admitted to being an unregistered agent of a foreign power, lying on his background check, knowingly providing sensitive information to people controlled by the Chinese government, and willingly receiving payments from them, law enforcement officials said.
Moinian traveled to Hong Kong in March 2017 and agreed to provide information and materials from several types of aircraft designed or manufactured in the United States. He was paid between $7,000 and $10,000 during the meeting.
“At this meeting and all subsequent meetings, Moinian knew that these individuals were employed or directed by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
After returning to the U.S., Moinian gathered sensitive aviation-related materials onto a thumb drive that he handed over to Chinese government officials during a stopover at an airport in Shanghai. He arranged for the subsequent payments to be funneled through his stepdaughter’s South Korean bank account, Justice Department officials said.
“He told his stepdaughter that these funds were payment for his consulting work overseas and instructed her to transfer the funds to him in multiple transactions,” officials said.
Moinian traveled to Hong Kong and Bali, where he met with his handlers and was paid more than $22,000 for his services to China. He later smuggled the cash back to the United States, officials said.
Federal agents arrested Moinian last year. He faces up to 15 years in prison and fines of $500,000 at sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 20.