Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 

A California businessman convicted of economic espionage for selling a secret recipe that creates white pigment to China has been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Chemical engineer Walter Liew, 56, was convicted in March of selling a DuPont Co. technology that makes items such as cars and paper whitener to the Chinese government for $28 million.

According to the FBI, Liew and his wife, Christina, knew China wanted to build a DuPont-like factory to make titanium dioxide, the white pigment. They started a company in the 1990s and hired retired DuPont engineers, who they allegedly paid thousands of dollars to in exchange for sensitive company documents. Liew's attorney had argued that none of the engineers ever implied the information being given to China was proprietary.

Liew and one of the former DuPont engineers, Robert Maegerle, are the first people to be convicted of economic espionage since Congress passed the Economic Espionage Act in 1996. Meanwhile, last week, a Chinese citizen was charged in federal court in Des Moines with conspiracy to steal trade trade secrets from U.S. seed corn companies.

—Elizabeth Chuck

The Associated Press contributed to this report.