BOSTON — A Chinese national pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Boston in connection with supplying Iran with pressure transducers which could be used to make nuclear weapons-grade uranium.
This plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Sihai Cheng, aka Chun Hai Cheng or Alex Cheng, 35, and a citizen of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to commit export violations and smuggle goods from the United States to Iran, and four counts of illegally exporting U.S. manufactured pressure transducers to Iran. His sentencing has been set for Jan. 27, 2016.
In 2013, Cheng was indicted, along with Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, an Iranian national, and two Iranian companies, Nicaro Eng. Co., Ltd. (Nicaro) and Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Company (Eyvaz), with conspiring to export, and exporting, highly sensitive U.S. manufactured goods with nuclear applications to Iran from at least 2009 to 2012. In December 2014, Cheng was extradited from the United Kingdom to this county and has remained in U.S. custody since then. Jamili remains a fugitive, and the U.S. government, through Interpol, has requested his arrest to face prosecution in the United States.
From February 2009 through at least 2011, Cheng, Jamili, and a third individual conspired with each other, and others in the PRC and Iran, to illegally obtain hundreds of U.S. manufactured pressure transducers manufactured by MKS Instruments, Inc., a company headquartered in Massachusetts, and export them to Iran. Pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium and are therefore subject to strict export controls. They cannot be shipped from the United States to China without an export license or shipped from the United States to Iran at all. Cheng admitted to causing the export of 185 pressure transducers from the United States to Iran in 2009.
Initially, the parts were exported to the PRC using fraudulently obtained U.S. Department of Commerce export licenses. When they arrived in the PRC, Cheng inspected them in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and removed their U.S./MKS serial numbers to conceal the fact that he was violating U.S. law. Cheng then caused the MKS pressure transducers to be exported to Iran knowing that the parts were being supplied to the Government of Iran. Jamili advised Cheng that the Iranian end-user was Kalaye Electronic Company, which the U.S. Government designated as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction in 2007 for its work with Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.
MKS Instruments, Inc., is not a target of this investigation and has been cooperating in this matter.
The charging statutes provide a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit export violations and on each of the four counts of illegally exporting U.S. goods to Iran; and no greater than five years in prison on the charge of conspiracy to smuggle U.S. goods to Iran, in addition to five years of supervised release and a fine of $4 million. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.