Chinese Man Asked Undercover AZ Agents to Help Illegally Export Technology To China

Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse

PHOENIX – Tao Li, a 39-year-old Chinese national, was sentenced to 40 months in prison, after pleading guilty to conspiring to export technology to the People’s Republic of China. During his efforts to obtain the technology, Li contacted two different undercover law enforcement agents in Arizona.

Li attempted to export the military- and space-grade technology without a license in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

According to the Department of Justice, notwithstanding the licensing requirement, the Department of Commerce has a policy of denial to export these types of electronic components to the People’s Republic of China.

Li worked with other individuals in China to purchase radiation-hardened power amplifiers and supervisory circuits and illegally export them from the United States to China between December 2016 and January 2018.

Li sought electronic components capable of withstanding significant levels of radiation and extreme heat, and as a result, are primarily used for military and space applications. Due to the technological capabilities of the electronic components sought by Li and the significant contribution that the components could make to a foreign country’s military and space programs, both parts required an export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, prior to being sent out of the United States.

Li, who resided in China, used multiple aliases to contact individuals in the United States, including representatives of United States-based private companies, to try to obtain the electronic components.

During his efforts to obtain the electronic components, Li contacted two different undercover law enforcement agents in Arizona. During his communications with the undercover agents, Li asked both of them to export the electronic components to China without obtaining the required license from the Department of Commerce.

Li and his coconspirators agreed to pay a “risk fee” to illegally export the electronic components to China. Li wired money from a bank account in China to a bank account in Arizona. Li was arrested in September 2018 at Los Angeles International Airport, as he attempted to travel from China to Arizona to meet with one of the undercover agents.

“If you steal our military and space technology, you should expect to go to prison,” said Michael Bailey, United States Attorney for the District of Arizona. “But for the diligent work of HSI and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, our nation’s security would’ve been damaged by Mr. Li.”

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