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Chinese national gets 9 years for smuggling nuclear materials to Iran

Chinese national gets 9 years for smuggling nuclear materials to Iran

BOSTON: A Chinese national was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Boston in connection with obtaining technology from a Massachusetts company that could be used to make nuclear weapons-grade uranium and exporting it to Iran.

Sihai Cheng, also known as Chun Hai Cheng or Alex Cheng, 35, a citizen of China, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Patti B. Saris to nine years in prison. One of Cheng’s co-conspirators, Iranian national Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, was part of a prisoner swap with Iran earlier this month.

In December 2015, Cheng 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.

In 2013, Cheng was charged in an indictment with conspiring to export, and exporting, highly sensitive U.S. manufactured goods with nuclear applications to Iran from at least 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. (Nasdaq: MKSI), headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts, and export them to Iran.

According to prosecutors, Cheng knew that the parts were being supplied to Kalaye Electric Co., an Iranian company responsible for the government of 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 today’s sentencing, prosecutors 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.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

Cheng’s 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 nine-year sentence, Saris found that Cheng “knowingly provided material support to develop a nuclear weapon.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said MKS Instruments Inc., is not a target of this investigation and has been cooperating in the investigation.