A 35-year-old former program administrator for a nonprofit space research company pleaded guilty to a charge that he illegally funneled payments for Army aviation technology that he then exported to a China-based university.

From 2016 to 2020, Jonathan Yet Wing Soong worked as a program administrator for Universities Space Research Association, a nonprofit corporation that focuses on space science and technology, according to a federal prosecutor’s news release.

He pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court to violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Soong’s duties included handling software license sales and screening customers for export compliance.

A representative of Beihang University, based in Bejing, China, contacted Soong on May 1, 2017, asking for an arrangement whereby the university could purchase CIFER software, a tool that allows a user to develop a dynamic model of an aircraft based on collective flight test data, according to the release.

CIFER software is subject to export administration regulations and Beihang University was on an entity list that required licensing to accept the export. Those steps were never taken. Soong’s job was, in part, to oversee such licensing reviews for any such exports.

U.S. officials have decried Chinese government and military espionage and efforts to appropriate secret or protected technology for decades.

Over several months in 2017 and into 2018, Soong communicated with a representative from Beijing Rainbow Technical Development Ltd., which worked as a third party for the sale of CIFER software to the university, according to court documents.

Soong arranged in July 2018 for CIFER software passcodes to be shared with Beihang University, accepting payment for the codes from Beijing Rainbow, according to the release.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 28. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

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