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Canadian and his firm plead guilty to transferring U.S. Navy rescue-sub data to China

In a 2018 rescue exercise off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska, a Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel deploys  Undersea Rescue Command’s Pressurized Rescue Module.
In a 2018 rescue exercise off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska, a Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel deploys Undersea Rescue Command’s Pressurized Rescue Module. (Monica McCoy/Navy)
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A Canadian businessman and his company have pleaded guilty to charges related to the transfer to China of technical details about a U.S. Navy undersea submarine rescue vehicle in an effort to sell versions to the Chinese navy, U.S. court records show.

Glen Omer Viau, a Canadian citizen, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor in federal court in Washington, admitting to transferring without authorization a thing of value to the United States. In a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors, Viau and the government valued the data as worth less than $1,000.

Viau attorney Preston Burton and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.

The charge could carry a recommended sentencing range of six to 12 months, but prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence of the brief time served by Viau in a D.C. jail after his January indictment, and a $25,000 fine.

Also Tuesday, Viau’s company, OceanWorks International of Vancouver, B.C., pleaded guilty to a felony count of making false statements to U.S. authorities by omitting that the company worked on a proposal with its Chinese parent company to sell a version to China’s navy, formally called the People’s Liberation Army Navy. In a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to recommend a fine of $84,000 at sentencing.

Viau is the company’s only director; it was also represented by Burton.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly set sentencing in both cases for Dec. 2.

Canadian accused of lying in case alleging China was given design details of U.S. Navy vessel

In plea papers, Viau acknowledged he and OceanWorks shared a technical drawing with its Beijing Co. parent firm related to the U.S. Navy’s Pressurized Rescue Module, a remotely operated rescue vehicle capable of docking with a sunken sub 2,000 feet underwater and carrying up to 18 people.

OceanWorks held commercial rights to the data, which it developed for the Navy, but Viau knew the Navy also expected confidentiality for certain rights it had to some data, according to plea filings.

Beijing Co., based in China, purchased OceanWorks and its intellectual property for $20 million in September 2016 and began trying to sell a version of its submarine rescue technology to the Chinese military, according to court filings.

The Navy’s “Falcon” rescue module is tethered to a surface ship and is capable of round-the-clock operations, replacing a battery-powered predecessor dramatized in films such as “The Hunt for Red October,” a 1990 movie based on Tom Clancy’s fictional bestseller about a rogue Soviet submarine.

Viau, who is about 50, was released on personal recognizance and permitted to travel in Canada and Europe. The judge lifted restrictions on Viau’s travel to China after his plea.

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