ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications giant, reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which comes at the end of a 5-year investigation into a series of shipments ZTE has made to Iran in violation of US sanctions. Per the settlement, ZTE will plead guilty and pay the DOJ $430 million, with a fine of $287 million and a criminal forfeiture of $143.5 million. The total dollar figure may ultimately rise to as much as 1.19 billion depending upon whether or not the firm violates the terms of the settlement agreement with BIS (US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security).
According to the Justice Department, ZTE obtained components manufactured in the U.S. that are on the Department of Commerce’s Commerce Control List, incorporated those items into its own equipment, and subsequently shipped the finished products to customers in Iran. In addition, the Justice Department charges that the company continued to ship these items while the investigation was ongoing. Apparently the items were used to fulfill contract projects ZTE had in Iran to install cellular and landline network infrastructure. (The Commerce Department also reports that ZTE shipped controlled items to North Korea as well.)
U.S. Attorney John R. Parker for the Northern District of Texas stated that, “ZTE Corporation then went to great lengths to devise elaborate, corporate-wide schemes to hide its illegal conduct, including lying to its own lawyers.” As much as $32 million dollar’s worth of equipment was shipped to Iran between January 2010 and January 2016; the company was also able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with Iran, the Commerce Department said in a recent press release.
The plea agreement still requires court approval, but if approved, it would subject ZTE to a probationary period of three years during which the firm would be under the eye of an independent compliance monitor as well as a seven-year suspended denial of export privileges, which could be activated if there are further violations. The Justice Department reported that the criminal fine in this case is the largest ever levied in an IEEPA (International Emergency Economic Powers Act) prosecution.