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American ShipperTrade and Compliance

U.S. hits Huawei with legal double whammy

The Chinese telecom is charged with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile USA and for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran through a misrepresented affiliate.

   The Justice Department in the Western District of Washington State on Monday unsealed a 10-count indictment charging Huawei Device Co. Ltd. and its U.S. subsidiary, Huawei Devices USA, with theft of trade secrets.
   Other charges include seven counts of wire fraud and one count of obstructing justice.
   It’s alleged that the Chinese telecommunication company stole trade secrets from Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile USA between 2012 and 2014 using a T-Mobile phone-testing robot named Tappy and then obstructed justice when T-Mobile threatened to sue Huawei in U.S. District Court in Seattle upon discovery.
   According to the charging documents, Huawei in July 2013 offered bonuses to employees who succeeded in stealing confidential information from competitors.
   “This indictment shines a bright light on Huawei’s flagrant abuse of the law — especially its efforts to steal valuable intellectual property from T-Mobile to gain unfair advantage in the global marketplace,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington in a statement. 
   Under the maximum sentencing provisions applicable to corporate entities, conspiracy and attempt to commit trade secret theft are punishable by a fine of up to $5 million or three times the value of the stolen trade secret, whichever is greater. Wire fraud and obstruction of justice are punishable by a fine of up to $500,000.
   The case is being investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd Greenberg and Thomas Woods of the Western District of Washington, with assistance from the Justice Department’s National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
   In addition, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announced on Monday that a grand jury in New York returned an indictment alleging 13 additional crimes committed by Huawei, its Chief Financial Officer Wanzhou Meng, Iranian affiliate Skycom and U.S. subsidiary Huawei Devices USA, with criminal activity going back at least 10 years. 
   Specifically, Huawei and Skycom are charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and conspiracy to violate IEEPA and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
   Huawei and Huawei Devices USA also are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice related to the grand jury investigation in the Eastern District of New York. Meng is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracies to commit bank and wire fraud.
   “As early as 2007, Huawei employees allegedly began to misrepresent the company’s relationship with its Iranian affiliate, which is called Skycom. Huawei employees allegedly told banking partners that Huawei had sold its ownership interest in Skycom — but these claims were false. In reality, Huawei sold Skycom to itself,” Whitaker said. 
   “By claiming that Skycom was a separate company — and not an affiliate which Huawei controlled — Huawei allegedly asserted that all of its Iran business was in compliance with American sanctions. These alleged false claims led banks to do business with the company and, therefore, to unknowingly violate our laws. One bank facilitated more than $100 million worth of Skycom transactions through the United States and in just four years,” he added.
   Lawmakers on Capitol Hill also are weighing on the indictments against Huawei.
   “Today’s FBI indictments of Huawei officials confirm the risk of China’s involvement in transformational, next-generation technology,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss. “The Commerce Committee is taking a hard look at the company’s activities and impact on developing technologies, such as 5G and autonomous vehicles, as well as network security and consumer data protection.”

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Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.
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