Chinese Telecommunications Conglomerate Huawei Faces National Security Charges

The following statement was delivered by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker:

Good afternoon and thank you all for being here.

I especially want to thank everyone on stage from the Departments of Homeland Security and Commerce, the FBI and from our U.S. Attorney’s offices in both the Western District of Washington State and the Eastern District of New York.

Before I get to today’s announcements, I want to remind everyone that the defendants in these cases—as in every case—are innocent until proven guilty and they deserve the due process of law.

First, I am announcing that a grand jury in Seattle has returned an indictment that alleges 10 federal crimes by two affiliates of telecommunications corporation Huawei Technologies. According to the indictment, in 2012 Huawei began a concerted effort to steal information about a robot that T-Mobile used to test mobile phones.  In an effort to build their own robot, Huawei’s engineers allegedly violated confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements with T-Mobile by secretly taking photos of the robot, measuring it, and even stealing a piece of it.

I am also announcing that a grand jury in New York has returned an indictment alleging 13 additional crimes committed by Huawei, its CFO, its affiliate in Iran, and one of its subsidiaries here in the United States.  The criminal activity alleged in this indictment goes back at least 10 years and goes all the way to the top of the company.

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.

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.

Huawei allegedly lied about other relationships, as well.  In 2017, when one bank decided to terminate its global banking relationship with Huawei over concern about risk, the company allegedly told other banks that Huawei was distancing itself from the bank—not the other way around.  Huawei allegedly did this in an attempt to, among other things, manipulate those other banks into expanding and maintaining their banking relationships with Huawei.

There are additional troubling allegations in the indictment as well, including that Huawei lied to the federal government, and attempted to obstruct justice by concealing and destroying evidence and by moving potential government witnesses back to China.

As has been widely reported, in December 2018, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s CFO in Vancouver, in compliance with our request for her provisional arrest pursuant to our extradition treaty with Canada.  The United States is currently seeking her extradition.  We are deeply grateful to the Government of Canada for its assistance and for its steadfast commitment to the rule of law.

I want to repeat that the charges in today’s indictments are only allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

And I want to thank everyone who made these indictments possible—especially the agencies represented behind me and to all of the New York, Dallas, and Seattle law enforcement agents who investigated these cases.  They are continuing their work to investigate these matters.

I also want to thank our attorneys in the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, our Office of International Affairs, and our AUSAs in the Eastern District of New York and the Western District of Washington.

The cases we are announcing today have truly been a team effort across multiple U.S. Cabinet agencies and across multiple Divisions and U.S. Attorneys’ offices within the Department of Justice.  For more than a year, the agencies represented behind me followed the evidence wherever it led.  They have done great work already—and I am confident that this team is going to finish the job and bring this case to a successful conclusion.

In a few moments, U.S. Attorney Donoghue and First Assistant Hayes will provide more details on today’s indictments.  But let me just say two more things.

First, when a bank’s customers lie to it about their sanctions-related business, that exposes the bank to the risk of violating the law, especially when they continue to provide those bad actors access to our U.S. financial system.  Our sanctions on Iran are the law of the land in this country—and we’re going to enforce the law, with both civil and criminal penalties.

Second: as I told high-level Chinese law enforcement officials in August—we need more law enforcement cooperation with China. China should be concerned about criminal activities by Chinese companies—and China should take action.

We are proud that the United States has the strongest economy in the world.  I believe that is in no small part due to our respect for the rule of law.  Criminals and bad actors can be certain that they will not get away with criminal activity.  But those who do business in the United States can also be certain the

Department of Justice will protect them from criminals, no matter how powerful or influential they are.  I think we have shown that today—and we will show that as these cases move forward.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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