The ongoing US-led opposition to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., the biggest telecommunications equipment maker in the world, took a sharp turn today with the unveiling of 23 criminal charges against the China-based company.
Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker led a news conference this afternoon, during which he explained that a grand jury in Seattle had indicted two affiliates of Huawei on 10 federal crimes related to accusations that Huawei stole technology from T-Mobile. Specifically, robotic technology that tests the durability of smartphones. Meanwhile, a grand jury in New York has also returned an indictment alleging 13 crimes committed by Huawei, its CFO, an affiliate in Iran and one of its subsidiaries in the US. Those charges are related to allegations that Huawei committed financial fraud by violating US sanctions against doing business with Iran.
During this afternoon’s press conference, FBI director Christopher Wray said the charges show Huawei’s “brazen and persistent actions to exploit American companies and financial institutions and to threaten the free and fair global marketplace.”
Related to these charges, the US has until Jan. 30 to extradite Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder who was arrested in Canada Dec. 1 at the behest of the US. She’s accused of helping Huawei get around the US sanctions against Iran.
Whitaker said some of the behavior documented in the criminal counts goes back to 2007 at Huawei, some of it also going to the very top ranks of its leadership. As a testament to the magnitude of the US investigative effort here, Whitaker added that multiple cabinet agencies and multiple US Attorneys’ offices contributed.
The charges range from conspiracy to bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The 10-count indictment from the Seattle grand jury includes the allegation that Huawei employees were offered cash bonuses as a reward for stealing rivals’ technology.
The charges come at a volatile moment for the US and China, which are still locked in trade tensions. Huawei has been working to displace Samsung as the biggest smartphone maker in the world, while at the same time the US has been aggressively working to convince allies to ban use of Huawei technology over fears that the company’s close ties to China’s central government mean the company’s devices could be used to spy on consumers.