Phone company is accused of evading US sanctions on Iran, the spy network’s first big-scale prosecution.
The US justice department is poised to drop charges against Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the chairman of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
The move is the first major indication that justice department prosecutors will ignore a now-familiar trend of indicting Chinese nationals following the allegations of Chinese spy networks in the US.
In this case, Meng is alleged to have lied to US customs agents about her company’s role in helping the Chinese spy network use its telecoms equipment for a network of Chinese companies, a scheme that could have boosted Beijing’s power in the international oil trade.
The case, brought last April by the assistant attorney general for national security, brought with the FBI and a Chicago district attorney, is expected to be one of the first under President Donald Trump’s recent decision to treat China as a potential security threat.
The department announced on Wednesday that Meng is expected to plead guilty for obstruction of justice after she was arrested on 2 December at Vancouver airport on a US extradition warrant.
Huawei president says arrests on US warrants pose ‘extraordinary risk’ to company Read more
The Chinese government, worried about US attempts to use criminal charges to pressure companies to turn over critical technologies to Beijing, responded angrily to her arrest.
The arrested woman was released on bail after 18 months in Canadian custody. She now awaits an appearance in Seattle at a date yet to be announced.
The justice department case is the first against a Chinese national in the USA under Trump’s administration. The previous few cases, including that of the Chinese student Jun Lin who was deported to China in 2016, have involved other criminal sanctions – not spying.
No public evidence linking Huawei or any of its executives to criminal wrongdoing has been produced. Officials have cited an alleged “massive scam” in which US-based oil trading companies conspired to boost China’s energy exports by paying other firms, including Huawei, to be their cell phone carriers.
The three-year scheme, which is said to have resulted in at least $180m in profits, proved lucrative but also risky for the companies. US officials fear it would have given Beijing better access to sensitive technological information about transport communications that could have been used to spy on western military bases.
The scheme exposed Huawei to having to cooperate with Chinese law that requires contracts to provide access to information about mainland Chinese citizens within five years.
A Huawei spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.