The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into Chinese telecoms equipment-maker ZTE over allegations it sold banned US computer gear to Iran. ZTE is the world’s fourth-biggest mobile telecoms manufacturer.
US sanctions prohibit the trade of any non-humanitarian goods with Iran. An investigation by Reuters in March alleged that ZTE had provided products made by the likes of Microsoft and HP.
In documents obtained by the Smoking Gun website, a ZTE lawyer said company officials also discussed shredding material relating to the alleged deals.
Reuters said that ZTE had sold Iran a surveillance system capable of monitoring landline, mobile and internet communications.
Ashley Kyle Yablon, the general counsel of ZTE’s US subsidiary in Texas, made the comments during interviews with FBI agents.
Mr Yablon said ZTE senior managers discussed several measures to subvert the investigation into the deal by the US Department of Commerce.
Another major firm, Huawei, has caused growing unease in the West
He said he had also seen a “packing list” – a document detailing items in a delivery, including hardware made by top US companies such as Oracle, Cisco and Dell, worth in the region of $ 120m (£80m).
In Reuters report, the equipment was described by an unnamed former telecommunications project manager in Iran as being “far more capable of monitoring citizens than I have seen in other equipment”.
Mr Yablon said he had seen an Iranian contract which outlined “how ZTE would evade the US embargo and obtain the US-manufactured components specified in the contract for delivery”.
Mr Yablon told FBI agents that the Shenzhen-based firm “was concerned about how the Reuters reporter obtained a copy of the packing list… because it could no longer ‘hide anything'”.
ZTE, the world’s fourth-largest mobile device maker, has declined to comment.
The investigation will fan the flames of what is seen by many as a growing dispute about the proliferation of Chinese electronics companies across the world.
The European Union is investigating whether China illegally subsidised several of its telecommunications companies – including ZTE – to enable them to grow quickly and overtake the likes of Nokia and Alcatel.