Early last month, the Boston Globe reported that Sihai Cheng, a Chinese national, appeared in federal court in Boston to face charges related to allegedly smuggling US-made equipment used to process weapons-grade uranium. He has been ordered held without bail on charges of smuggling and conspiracy to export US goods into Iran.
The case was brought to court in Boston because the equipment in question was manufactured by MKS Instruments, a company based in Andover, MA. The company does not face any accusations of wrongdoing.
Cheng is accused of smuggling transducers which are pressure-measuring sensors commonly used in manufacturing, but also necessary for turning uranium into a form that is usable for making nuclear weapons.
While it is permissible to distribute transducers to a number of foreign countries provided the necessary export license is obtained, it is not legal to export transducers to Iran at present. The FBI believes Cheng worked around this obstacle by creating shell companies in China. He is accused of conspiring to export the goods to legitimate companies in China, and then designate the shell companies as the intended recipients of the goods. The goods were then shipped to Iran instead.
Cheng is 34, speaks English, and holds a bachelor’s degree from a university in China. According to a federal indictment, more than 1,000 orders were placed for MKS transducers, valued at more than $1.8 million. If convicted, Cheng could face 20 years in prison and up to $40 million in fines. Authorities believe Cheng has been working with Iranian national Seyed Abolfazl Shabab Jamili, and two Iranian companies, Nicaro Eng. Co. Ltd., known as Nicaro, and Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co., known as Eyvaz.
by Suzanne DeCuir