SEATTLE – A Fijian national who traveled from New Zealand to Seattle to allegedly procure export-restricted technology to sell to customers in China was arraigned Thursday on federal charges of conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act, following an undercover probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
William Ali, 37, who resides in New Zealand, is accused of conspiring with an individual in China to obtain specialized accelerometers, which are used in missile and spacecraft navigation systems, along with other sensitive defense parts. At Thursday’s arraignment, Ali pleaded not guilty and the judge set his trial for July 18. Ali remains in federal custody at this time.
According to the indictment, Ali intended to ship the sensitive items to China without a required export license. As part of the conspiracy, Ali, acting on behalf of his Chinese partner, first attempted to obtain the accelerometers from two companies, then later, from an individual he thought was a commercial seller, but who was, in fact, an undercover HSI special agent to whom he paid a total of $24,900. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.
Court documents reveal that in May 2015, an undercover HSI special agent, posing as a commercial seller, began email conversations with Ali, who provided the investigator a list of various accelerometers, gyroscopes, and inertial measurement units he wanted to procure, all of which require export licenses by either the Department of State or the Department of Commerce. For several weeks, Ali and the undercover special agent discussed pricing and the lead time for delivery of the items, with Ali acknowledging that failure to obtain an export license was in violation of U.S. law. The defendant then suggested he and the agent conduct an in-person meeting for delivery of the products. In April 2016, the defendant arrived in Seattle to pick up the accelerators, but instead, was arrested by his HSI contact. HSI Seattle received the initial investigative referral from the U.S. Department of Defense Security Service.
The U.S. Munitions List, which is administered by the Department of State (DOS) as part of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, consists of categories of defense articles and services that cannot be exported without a license issued by the DOS. The accelerometers involved in this case are listed on the U.S. Munitions List and therefore require an export license. Violation of the Arms Control Export Act carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to a $1 million.
Meanwhile, another defendant arrested and charged in 2014 as a result of a Seattle HSI undercover probe targeting the smuggling of prohibited defense articles was deported to China earlier this month. Yue Wu, 42, was repatriated May 4 on board commercial aircraft escorted by Seattle-based ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations deportation officers. Wu was originally arrested by HSI Oct. 23, 2014, at San Francisco International Airport as he prepared to leave the U.S. According to records filed in the case, in January 2012 Wu began attempting to obtain a type of accelerometer which is used in satellites and spacecraft and can only be exported from the U.S. if a license is issued by the U.S. State Department. Wu did not realize the person he was working with to obtain the equipment was an undercover HSI special agent. Wu was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.