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Chinese spies illegally smuggled US gear for Iran military

China and US flags. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Mikki L. Sprenkle/Released)
February 01, 2024

The U.S. Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals on Wednesday for illegally exporting and smuggling U.S. electronic equipment to Iran’s military.

The Department of Justice issued a press release Wednesday, noting that the four Chinese nationals – Baoxia Liu, Yiu Wa Yung, Yongxin Li, and Yanlai Zhong – “unlawfully exported and smuggled U.S. export controlled items through China and Hong Kong ultimately for the benefit of entities affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

According to the Justice Department, the four Chinese nationals smuggled electronic parts manufactured in the United States to Iran for over ten years. The smuggled electronics were used by the world’s largest state sponsor of terror for the production of military equipment. The decade-long operation allowed Iran to procure items that are typically sanctioned by the United States.

“Our indictment alleges a years-long, complex conspiracy to violate U.S. laws by procuring U.S. technology with military uses for entities in Iran who would do us harm – a serious offense that endangers our national security,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said. “Our office, along with our federal law enforcement partners, will continue to turn over every stone to find those who break our laws and put us at risk.”

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According to the Department of Justice, the illegal export operation began as early as May of 2007 and continued until at least July of 2020. The operation enabled Iran to produce military equipment, such as ballistic missile systems and drones, as parts manufactured in the United States were illegally smuggled by the four Chinese nationals to Iran through “an array of front companies” in China.

The Department of Justice announced that the four Chinese nationals involved in the alleged illegal exportation operation have been charged with conspiracy and violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, smuggling items outside of the United States, and providing false or misleading information regarding exports. Arrest warrants have been issued for each of the defendants, and the Chinese nationals currently face multiple decades in prison if convicted.

“Aggressively combating illicit procurement networks that support Iranian military systems like radars and UAVs is essential to U.S. national security,” Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod said. “Today’s indictment, tied to the work of the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, reaffirms that proliferators cannot hide behind front companies in third countries to funnel technology to our adversaries.”