A retired Army pilot who sold sensitive aviation-related information to China has been sentenced to over a year and a half in prison, the Justice Department said.

Shapour Moinian, 67, pleaded guilty in June to accepting tens of thousands of dollars from Beijing representatives in exchange for information related to assorted aircraft designed and manufactured in the United States.

He had faced over a decade in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

At sentencing in San Diego on Monday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller described Moinian’s actions as “industrial espionage bordering on military espionage,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

In addition to acting as an agent for a foreign government, Moinian was charged with lying about his Chinese contacts during security clearance background checks in 2017 and 2020, which he acknowledged, according to court documents.

Neither the DOJ nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office specified how much, if any, of Moinian’s sentence resulted from the false statements.

“This crime was committed by a former member of the U.S. military who chose cash over his company and country,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said during sentencing, as quoted in his office’s statement.

After retiring from the Army in 2000, Moinian worked for defense contractors privy to classified information and was involved with several projects used by the military and U.S. intelligence agencies, Justice Department officials said.

A Chinese operative first contacted him several years ago, according to the statement.

Most of the information and materials Moinian gave the Chinese were collected from open sources on the internet, and only a small amount of it was older, proprietary information from his former American employers, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, quoting the defense at sentencing.

“None of the information or materials contained classified information,” attorney Nathan Feneis was quoted as saying.

Moinian served from 1977 to 2000, which included tours in Germany and South Korea, according to court documents.

Chinese intelligence agents first contacted the San Diego resident in 2015 through an online employment service. Two years later, he traveled to Hong Kong, where he accepted between $7,000 and $10,000 to provide aviation-related information, knowing that the recipients were employed or directed by the Chinese government, prosecutors said.

Upon returning to the U.S., he started collecting the information on a thumb drive, which he gave to Chinese agents during a stopover at Shanghai airport several months later.

At the time, he also arranged for his payments to be made through a South Korean bank account belonging to his stepdaughter, and thousands of dollars was deposited into the account in subsequent months, the Justice Department said.

In 2019, Chinese agents met Moinian in Hong Kong paid him $22,000 in cash, which he and his wife smuggled aboard their flight back to the United States, the statement added.

Moinian’s sentencing comes on the heels of the arrest of another former American military pilot, Daniel Edmund Duggan.

He ran an aviation consultancy in China and was arrested in Australia last month at the request of the United States, The Associated Press reported on Oct. 26.

The reason for the arrest and the potential charges against Duggan were not disclosed, the AP report said.

The British and Australian governments have complained that Beijing is poaching retired pilots to train Chinese air forces.

A retired Army pilot, Shapour Moinian, was sentenced to 20 months in prison Nov. 7, 2022, for selling sensitive aviation-related information to China, the Justice Department said.

A retired Army pilot, Shapour Moinian, was sentenced to 20 months in prison Nov. 7, 2022, for selling sensitive aviation-related information to China, the Justice Department said. (File)

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

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