Have you ever wondered how staff from one company can simply move to another, without revealing any trade secrets, especially when they work in a technical or engineering capacity? Isn’t that why they were hired in the first place?

Some transitions don’t happen so well, as a former General Motors engineer and her husband were recently charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets in relation to GM’s hybrid vehicles. Very much like something out of a movie, Shan Shan Du has been accused of copying thousands of GM documents to an external hard drive five days after the automaker offered her a severance agreement in January 2005.

Du and her husband Qin, are said to have been planning to pass information on GM’s hybrid tech to Chinese carmaker Chery, through a small firm they own called Millennium Technology International. Evidence supposedly extracted from a series of e-mails to the Chinese automaker also proposed a joint venture between Millennium and Chery.

The case is still in being played out in court and the likely outcome can be anything from 10 to 20 years in prison with a fine of $250,000. That should deter auto execs from diving into the espionage business.