Md. sting uncovered arms deal, U.S. says

Taiwanese businessmen allegedly tried to buy U.S. military gear for Iran

March 05, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Two Taiwanese businessmen who tried to purchase sensitive U.S. military equipment for Iran were exposed through an undercover sting operation in Maryland, federal authorities said yesterday.

The two are charged with conspiracy to violate U.S. export laws by attempting to buy early warning radar, Cobra attack helicopters, night-vision goggles and satellite photos for Tehran in violation of the U.S. embargo against Iran. Authorities said none of the equipment was successfully shipped out of the United States.

If convicted, En-Wei Eric Chang, 28, and David Chu, 39, also known as Chu Loung Hsiang, could be sentenced to five years in prison. Authorities in Baltimore said Chu was arrested Feb. 22 in Guam. Chang, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is believed to be living in Taiwan, remains a fugitive.

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said the charges reflect heightened awareness among federal law enforcement agencies about smuggling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and as America faces a possible war with Iraq.

"What gives the United States military its edge? Our technology," DiBiagio told reporters. "It's what we have and they want."

DiBiagio said the case against Chang and Chu is the result of a yearlong, international smuggling investigation that began when the men contacted a Maryland-based defense contractor about purchasing U.S. spy satellite images of Tehran.

The request raised red flags and prompted federal investigators in Maryland to set up a fictitious business, Stellar International, to try to catch the suspected arms dealers. According to the indictment, the men repeatedly contacted Stellar about purchasing military equipment to ship to Iran through Taiwan and elsewhere.

The indictment, dated Feb. 13, alleges that Chu wired $12,800 in two equal payments to the undercover agents to purchase spiral antennas, typically used on military aircraft to warn pilots of detection by enemy radar.

Chu picked up the antennas in Guam and was arrested when he tried to board a plane back to Taiwan, authorities said.

"We cannot allow our most sensitive military technology to be stolen and smuggled out of the United States," said Allan J. Doody, special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement - the Homeland Security agency formerly known as the Customs Service criminal investigations office.

The Baltimore case comes on the heels of similar indictments in other cities. Officials in Los Angeles said last week that five individuals and four companies had been charged with attempting to illegally export parts for Hawk surface-to-air missiles, TOW anti-tank missiles, F-4 Phantom fighter jets and other equipment.

Defense giant Raytheon Corp. agreed last week to pay a $25 million fine to settle allegations that the company - the maker of the Patriot missile - tried to export sensitive communications equipment to Pakistan's military, authorities said.

Last May, a federal jury in Baltimore convicted two U.S. businessmen of violating arms export laws by attempting to ship tightly controlled military encryption equipment, in disguise, to China.

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