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Chinese business executive takes plea in Jacksonville smuggling case tied to Navy officer

Jacksonville's federal courthouse (Don Burk/Florida Times-Union/TNS)

A Chinese business executive pleaded guilty in Jacksonville Monday to trying to smuggle American military-style boats to China for an apparent plan to produce copies to sell in his home country.

Ge Songtao, chairman of the Shanghai Breeze Technology Co. Ltd., is the third person to take a plea deal to settle charges brought last year partly with information gathered through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law drafted to identify foreign agents involved in espionage or terrorism.

The plea leaves a Jacksonville-based Navy officer, Lt. Fan Yang, as the only person still facing trial from charges in a six-count indictment focused on Ge’s business. The lieutenant’s wife, Yang Yang, worked for Shanghai Breeze as a consultant and took a plea similar to Ge’s in September. Ge’s assistant, Zheng Yan, took a deal in August.

The plea agreement Ge signed said his company’s employees lied to conceal plans to have inflatable rubber “raiding craft” and military-grade engines shipped to mainland China.

Boats like that are used by some police and fire agencies for emergency rescues but also by Navy SEALs, and Ge’s company had ordered special military-grade engines that can be used on craft that are dropped into the ocean from aircraft or launched from submarines.

“As FBI Director Christopher Wray has stated previously, we will not tolerate it when China violates our criminal laws and international norms, much less enable it,” Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI in Jacksonville, said in a statement emailed after Ge’s plea was entered. “FBI Jacksonville and our partners throughout the U.S. government will continue working to hold China accountable and protect our nation’s innovation, ideas and way of life.”

Shanghai Breeze had openly bought raiding craft made by California-based Wing Inflatables Inc. from an American middleman in 2016, the agreement said.

But by last year the middleman had gotten out of that business, and Ge’s company needed a new supplier.

“Ge Songtao’s attempts to illegally acquire sensitive U.S. technology for illicit purposes threatened the operational readiness and safety of our nation’s military,” said Thomas Cannizzo, special agent in charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Southeast Field Office.

During a hearing for Ge’s plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican read a summary of facts from his case that referenced Shanghai Breeze providing a Wing craft to a South Korean manufacturer with a plant in China and arranging tests of inflatables the Korean company made.

Yang Yang’s plea agreement said a shipment of American inflatables and those made by the Korean company were both scheduled to be available for Ge’s company in October 2019, shortly before Ge and people working for him were indicted. The shipment coming from America had been addressed to a front company in Hong Kong, which had agreed to forward the craft to mainland China for a small fee.

At Monday’s hearing, U.S. Magistrate James Klindt said Ge’s plea agreement included a commitment to drop some charges if Ge pleaded guilty to two counts, as well as an agreement to not file several other charges that weren’t part of last year’s indictment.

Klindt isn’t empowered as a magistrate to find Ge guilty but said Monday he would forward Ge’s plea to U.S. Senior Judge Harvey Schlesinger and recommend that he do so.


(c) 2020 The Florida Times-Union

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