Huawei’s battle with the U.S. government hit a new plateau as the Justice Department has charged the company and its CFO with conspiring to violate sanctions on Iran. And, in a separate grand jury indictment, Huawei was tagged for stealing robotic technology from T-Mobile US.
The Department of Justice’s 13-count indictment, which was unsealed this week, charged four defendants with financial fraud and violating sanctions. Those defendants include Huawei, two of its affiliates, and CFO Wanzhou Meng.
Huawei and its Iranian affiliate 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 its U.S. affiliate are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice related to an ongoing grand jury investigation. And Meng is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracies to commit bank and wire fraud.
U.S. government officials noted in the indictment that the defendants, for more than a decade, had orchestrated millions of dollars in transactions with Iran that violated sanctions placed on the country. Those activities relied on global banking relationships to launder money from the sale of equipment made to Iran through Skycom. One bank is said to have handled more than $100 million worth of Skycom transactions through the U.S. between 2010 and 2014.
Huawei and its U.S. subsidiary are also accused of obstructing an investigation into those activities that the U.S. government began in 2016. This included moving employees that were aware of the Iranian activities back to Huawei’s offices in China and destroying evidence that was in the U.S.
Wen Ku, a senior official at China’s ministry of industry and information technology, told reporters in Beijing that the indictments were “unfair and immoral.” According to the China Daily as well as multiple other news outlets, Huawei said it was “disappointed” to learn of the charges brought against it by the U.S. government and denied that it has committed any of the alleged violations of U.S. law.
Huawei’s country-mate ZTE last year forked over more than $1 billion in fines and revamped its leadership structure after it was found to have sold equipment to Iran and North Korea that used components from U.S. companies in violation of a long-standing trade ban.
Huawei’s transgressions against T-Mobile US included efforts to steal information about a robot that the carrier used to test mobile phones. That robot, dubbed “Tappy,” was used by the carrier to test the performance of devices that connected to its network.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker explained during a press conference that Huawei made a “concerted effort” to steal information stored on Tappy and instructed its employees to violate non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements with T-Mobile US by taking photos of the robot. A Huawei employee is also said to have stolen a piece of the robot to take back to the company’s headquarters in order to make their own version of the device.
The latest accusations cap what has been a challenging period for Huawei. A number of Western governments are actively working to prevent telecom operators from using equipment from the vendor to power 5G network and in some cases remove Huawei equipment from legacy 4G LTE networks due to security concerns.
Anne Morris contributed to this story.