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US Justice Department files criminal charges against Huawei

Huawei and CFO face 23 criminal charges related to alleged Iran sanctions and industrial espionage

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announces the indictments against Huawei.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announces the indictments against Huawei.

Huawei has been hit with a barrage of criminal charges in the US, in part relating to breaking sanctions with Iran and industrial espionage.

The US Justice Department has filed charges including bank fraud, obstruction of justice and theft of technology, the BBC reports. The charges are against both the company and its CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is currently under house arrest in Canada.

Huawei and Ms Meng deny the charges, but the indictments are the most serious escalation in the ongoing dispute between Huawei and the US authorities.

Two indictments were opened against Huawei and its affiliates.

The first includes 13 charges against Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, Huawei Device USA Inc. (Huawei USA); Skycom Tech Co. Ltd. (Skycom); and Ms Meng, including 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 USA 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.

These charges relate to what Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker described as criminal activity which "goes back at least 10 years and goes all the way to the top of the company". The indictment says that Huawei attempted to claim that it had sold Iranian affiliate Skycom, to be in compliance with US sanctions, when it had in fact just sold its share in the company back to itself.

The second indictment includes ten counts - theft of trade secrets conspiracy, attempted theft of trade secrets, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice.

The charges relate to alleged attempts by Huawei to steal technology from T-Mobile USA in 2012 to 2014, with the indictment even alleging the Huawei offered bonuses to employees who could steal confidential information from other companies. The theft allegedly targeted a robotic test device that mimicked a human hand and fingers typing on a phone keypad.

After T-Mobile discovered and interrupted these criminal activities, and then threatened to sue, Huawei produced a report falsely claiming that the theft was the work of rogue actors within the company and not a concerted effort by Huawei corporate entities in the United States and China.  As emails obtained in the course of the investigation reveal, the conspiracy to steal secrets from T-Mobile was a company-wide effort involving many engineers and employees within the two charged companies. 

"Today we are announcing that we are bringing criminal charges against telecommunications giant Huawei and its associates for nearly two dozen alleged crimes" Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker said. "As I told Chinese officials in August, China must hold its citizens and Chinese companies accountable for complying with the law.

"The charges unsealed today clearly allege that Huawei intentionally conspired to steal the intellectual property of an American company in an attempt to undermine the free and fair global marketplace," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "To the detriment of American ingenuity, Huawei continually disregarded the laws of the United States in the hopes of gaining an unfair economic advantage. As the volume of these charges prove, the FBI will not tolerate corrupt businesses that violate the laws that allow American companies and the United States to thrive."

In a statement, Huawei rejected the charges, saying it didn't commit "any of the asserted violations" and that it "is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng".

It said the allegations were already the subject of a settled civil suit, in which a jury found "neither damages nor willful and malicious conduct on the trade secret claim".