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January 29, 2021Washington, DC, United StatesNational Security

Chinese national charged with criminal conspiracy to export US power amplifiers to China following ICE investigation

Avnet Asia admits to criminal liability for the conduct of former employees, and agrees to pay more than $3.2 million

WASHINGTON – An indictment was unsealed this week charging Cheng Bo, also known as Joe Cheng, a 45-year-old national of the People’s Republic of China, with participating in a criminal conspiracy from 2012-2015 to violate U.S. export laws by shipping U.S. power amplifiers to China, the result of a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles, the FBI and the Department of Commerce.

Cheng’s former employer, Avnet Asia Pte. Ltd., a Singapore company and global distributor of electronic components and related software, agreed to pay a financial penalty to the United States of $1,508,000 to settle criminal liability for the conduct of its former employees, including Cheng. As part of a Non-Prosecution Agreement, Avnet Asia admitted responsibility for Cheng’s unlawful conspiracy to ship export-controlled U.S. goods with potential military applications to China, and also for the criminal conduct of another former employee who, from 2007-2009, illegally caused U.S. goods to be shipped to China and Iran without a license. This conduct violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Avnet Asia has also agreed to pay an additional $1,721,000 as part of a $3,229,000 administrative penalty to resolve violations of the Export Administration Regulations.

“The export of sensitive technology items to China or anywhere else in the world is tightly regulated for good reason,” said David A. Prince, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Los Angeles. “One of HSI’s top enforcement priorities is preventing U.S. military and dual-use products and sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests. We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to aggressively target and investigate those who jeopardize our nation’s security – or the welfare of those devoted to protecting it.”

 “Avnet’s employees repeatedly falsified documentation in order to send export-controlled goods with potential military applications to China,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “What China cannot develop itself, it acquires illegally through others. This is yet another example of a proxy acting to further China’s malign interests.”

According to the indictment unsealed today, Cheng was a sales account manager with Avnet Asia, and he operated as a sales representative to a Hong Kong-based customer with whom Cheng had an ownership interest. Cheng submitted paperwork on behalf of the customer to purchase export-controlled U.S. goods, including power amplifiers. Cheng caused false statements to be made to the U.S. manufacturer of the power amplifiers that his customer would use the power amplifiers in Hong Kong when, in fact, Cheng knew that the goods would be illegally shipped from Hong Kong to China.

As part of the Non-Prosecution Agreement, Avnet Asia admitted that from 2012-2015, Cheng caused at least 18 separate shipments of export-controlled goods to be sent from the United States to Hong Kong, knowing that the goods were intended to be subsequently shipped to China, and that the value of these illegal exports was at least $814,000. Avnet Asia also admitted that another sales account manager, this one based in Singapore, conspired to violate U.S. export control laws and economic sanctions from 2007 through 2009. The Singapore-based sales account manager helped two Singapore business organizations in their efforts to ship U.S. goods to Iran and China, including by helping to create documents falsely stating that the goods were destined only for Singapore. The Singapore-based sales account manager caused at least 29 separate Avnet Asia shipments of goods to be exported from the United States, knowing that the goods were intended to be subsequently shipped to Iran or China. The value of these goods was at least $347,000. Neither Avnet Asia nor anyone else applied for an export license from U.S. government authorities.

“We will not abide individuals or business organizations that would seek to harm our national security by illegally providing coveted U.S. goods with potential military applications to Iran or China,” said acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin for the District of Columbia. “We will pursue wrongdoers no matter where they are located in the world.”

If convicted, Cheng would face up to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to twice the value of the property involved in the illegal transactions. The facts alleged in the indictment are allegations, and criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being prosecuted by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department National Security Division.

Updated: 02/02/2021