In a press event today, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that it is pursuing criminal charges against Chinese mobile giant Huawei. Following a story from The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, TechCrunch previously reported that the indictments were set to be unsealed soon.
A grand jury in Seattle has charged Huawei with conspiracy to steal trade secrets, attempted theft of trade secrets, seven counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice for the company’s alleged attempts to move potential witnesses back to China. The indictments grew out of a civil suit dating all the way back to 2014 in which T-Mobile sued Huawei for stealing trade secrets related to a robotic phone-testing device known as “Tappy.”
“As I told Chinese officials in August, China must hold its citizens and Chinese companies accountable for complying with the law,” Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said.
In addition to the company itself, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and Huawei affiliates Skycom Huawei Device USA also face charges in a 13-count indictment from a grand jury in New York. Meng, the daughter of the company’s founder, faces charges of bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud.
In December, Canada arrested the Huawei executive on charges related to deceptive practices designed to skirt U.S. sanctions against Iran. She remained free on bail in Vancouver as Canada waited for the U.S. to make a formal request for her extradition before a January 30 deadline.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have escalated considerably over the last year, with U.S. agencies and lawmakers increasingly cautioning that Huawei poses a major security threat. Still, the U.S. has yet to furnish proof of its claims. The conspicuous absence points to the fact that the U.S. is likely wary of allowing China to participate in building out the infrastructure for 5G mobile networks to prevent future spying — even if it lacks proof that China is leveraging its hardware for spying against domestic interests now. Pursuing aggressive criminal charges against the company is another way to make the point that Huawei’s hardware is off limits for the U.S. and its allies.
“To the detriment of American ingenuity, Huawei continually disregarded the laws of the United States in the hopes of gaining an unfair economic advantage,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the announcement. “As the volume of these charges prove, the FBI will not tolerate corrupt businesses that violate the laws that allow American companies and the United States to thrive.”