Woman Accused in China Arms Export Case
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 10:41 PM
SAN DIEGO -- A Chinese woman living in Connecticut sought to buy military equipment commonly used to gauge the power of nuclear explosions and export it to her native country, a federal grand jury charged Thursday.
Qing Li, 39, first contacted undercover federal agents by e-mail in April to ask about buying sensors, according to the indictment. She was working with a co-conspirator in China who was trying to buy the devices for a state-run agency and arranged conference calls with the undercover investigators, according to the indictment.
A criminal complaint unsealed in San Diego said Qing Li asked for as many as 30 of the $2,500 sensors to be shipped to mainland China through Hong Kong as "a favor for a friend in China." She indicated in future messages that her friend might want as many as 100 of the devices if they worked well.
The co-conspirator, who has not been named or indicted and is not in custody, allegedly told investigators during an Oct. 2 conference call with Qing Li that the sensors were for "a special agency, a scientific research institute in China."
The credit-card-size devices, made by Endevco Corp. of San Juan Capistrano, can also be used for developing missiles or artillery. It is illegal to export the sensors, which the government has classified as defense articles, without State Department approval.
A lawyer for Endevco said the company was cooperating with the investigation. According to the complaint, Endevco sales staff referred the woman to the undercover storefront operation after she called the company looking to buy the sensors.
Qing Li, 39, never received sensors from the undercover investigators, officials said, and it was unclear whether she ever procured weapons for export.
Her attorney in New York, Paul Goldberger, did not immediately return a call Thursday.
"These devices are simply not for export to China or anywhere else without explicit permission from the U.S. government," said Julie Myers, Homeland Security assistant secretary, who oversees illegal export investigations as head of ICE.
"Accelerometers are a designated defense article frequently used in missiles, 'smart bombs' and other major weapons systems and in the wrong hands, could prove catastrophic," she said.
The defendant lives in Stamford, Conn., and is a legal resident, according to ICE investigators. She came to the U.S. in 1996.
She was arrested Sunday at New York's Kennedy Airport as she checked in for an Air China flight to Beijing, according to investigators for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A federal judge has ordered her held in New York, pending a hearing in San Diego, where the grand jury charges were filed. She faces as many as five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted.
A hearing on Qing Li's extradition to California is scheduled for Monday in New York federal court.
A message left with the Chinese embassy in Washington was not immediately returned.
The federal government has recently stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal weapons exports, particularly to potential adversaries such as China and Iran, by U.S.-based exporters who sell or ship equipment overseas without proper authorization.
Two Utah men were charged this month with trying to sell parts over the Internet for fighter jets flown by Iran. In September, two engineers were indicted in San Jose, Calif., on charges of stealing computer chip designs and soliciting the Chinese government for money to develop the chips.
A report last year by U.S. intelligence officials found that a record 108 nations were trying to buy or otherwise obtain U.S. technology that is restricted for sale.