OAKLAND, Calif. – A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a California chemical engineer to 15 years in prison and fined him $28.3 million for a rare economic-espionage conviction for selling China a secret recipe for a widely used white pigment.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland said Walter Liew, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had turned against his adopted country over greed.
A jury previously convicted the 56-year-old Liew of receiving $28 million from companies controlled by the Chinese government in exchange for DuPont Co.’s pigment technology for making cars, paper and a long list of everyday items whiter.
Along with the $28.3 million Liew was ordered to forfeit and pay to DuPont, the engineering company launched by him and his wife was fined $18.9 million.
White expressed doubt that Liew would pay back much of his debt.
The judge noted that U.S. authorities had managed to trace $22 million of the $28 million received by Liew to various Singapore and Chinese companies controlled by Liew’s in-laws before losing the trail.
We’ll never get it, White said. It has been spirited out of the country.
Liew and his wife, Christina Liew, launched a small California company in the 1990s aimed at exploiting China’s desire to build a DuPont-like factory to manufacture the white pigment known as titanium dioxide.
The Liews hired retired DuPont engineers and, according to the FBI, paid them thousands of dollars for sensitive company documents laying out a process to make the pigment.
Two former DuPont engineers have also been convicted of economic espionage. Another engineer committed suicide in early 2012 on the day he was to sign a plea bargain acknowledging his role in the conspiracy.
Except for a few months of release on bail, Liew has been in jail since his arrest in 2011. Wearing yellow jail garb and with his wife and family looking on from the gallery, Liew apologized for his actions.
There are many things I would have liked to have done differently, Liew told the judge. I regret my actions.