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Counter Proliferation Investigation Unit
01/27/2016

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Chinese national sentenced to 9 years for providing US goods to Iranian nuclear program

BOSTON — A Chinese national was sentenced in federal court Wednesday for supplying nearly 2,000 pressure transducers to Iran, which could use the devices to make weapons-grade uranium.

This sentence resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the cooperation of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Sihai Cheng, aka Chun Hai Cheng, Alex Cheng, 35, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), was sentenced to nine years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down in the U.S. for export violations.   In December 2015, Cheng pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to commit export violations and four counts of illegally exporting U.S. manufactured pressure transducers to Iran.   

“Today’s lengthy sentence serves as a warning to others that stiff penalties are waiting for anyone attempting to steal or sell American technologies or trade them to foreign powers,” said Matthew Etre, special agent in charge of HSI Boston.  “HSI and our law enforcement partners take the national security interests of this nation very seriously and will aggressively pursue any criminal or organization engaged in these activities.”

“Cheng knowingly provided more than 1,000 pressure transducers to Iran which advanced its nuclear weapons capabilities,” said Carmen M. Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.  “At this critical time, the prosecution of individuals who violate our export laws – wherever they are located – is just as important, if not more, than ever before.”

In 2013, Cheng was charged with conspiring to export highly sensitive U.S. manufactured goods, with nuclear applications, to Iran from 2009 to 2012.   Cheng pleaded guilty to conspiring with other individuals in China 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. 

As established at the sentencing hearing, Cheng knew that the parts were being supplied to Kalaye Electric Co., a U.S. designated “Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferator” responsible for the Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program and the development of weapons-grade uranium.  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.  

At sentencing, the government argued that Cheng’s conduct gravely harmed and jeopardized the national security of the United States as well as other countries throughout the world.  Cheng even invoked the threat of war between Iran and the United States as a means of increasing his profits.  Cheng’s procurement network was responsible for supplying Iran thousands of components for its nuclear proliferation activities and advancing Iran’s nuclear capabilities. 

Cheng knew he was providing Iran critical components for use in the development of weapons-grade uranium and that the parts he was supplying were going Iran’s nuclear program.  Indeed, in 2009, according to evidence at the sentencing hearing, when Cheng supplied his first four shipments of pressure transducers, Iran was secretly constructing the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons.  Further, based upon expert testimony, from 2009 to 2011, when Cheng supplied Iran 1,185 MKS pressure transducers, Iran was engaged in nuclear proliferation activities.  

In imposing the sentence, the court found that Cheng “knowingly provided material support to develop a nuclear weapon.”  

MKS Instruments, Inc., is not a target of this investigation and has been cooperating in this matter.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 01/28/2016