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China-Based Network Conspired to Deliver WMD Components to Iran, DOJ Charges

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The DOJ is unsealing charges against a Chinese citizen who, it claims, helped to operate a network that provides WMD components to Iran.

Authorities in New York unsealed the indictment May 16, charging Xiangjiang Qiao with sanctions evasion, money laundering, and bank fraud, alleging that Qiao participated in a scheme to use a sanctioned Chinese company to provide WMD materials to Iran in exchange for payments made through the U.S. financial system.

“The Iranian regime of terror and repression, and those who facilitate it, pose a grave threat to our national security,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams in a prepared statement.

“This office will continue to work relentlessly to bring to justice those who advance the interests of the Iranian regime and thereby threaten the safety and security of the American people.”

Building Iranian WMDs

Qiao, who is a Chinese citizen, allegedly participated in a scheme to use the China-based company Sinotech Dalian Carbon and Graphite Manufacturing Corporation (Sinotech Dalian) to supply isostatic graphite to Iran for the production of WMDs from at least 2019 through 2022.

The assistance, charging documents say, was particularly focused on the procurement of materials needed for Iran’s ballistic missile program.

“The defendant tried to arrange the sale using Chinese companies that the U.S. has sanctioned for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen during a press conference announcing the charges.

Sinotech Dalian was previously sanctioned in 2014, a DOJ statement said, and is part of a network of China-based entities used to proliferate WMDs and aid in Iranian ballistic missile procurement more broadly.

Qiao himself is an associate of Li Fangwei, who managed the Sinotech Dalian network of companies and who was charged in 2014 with sanctions evasion and other offenses based on his alleged activities as a principal contributor to Iran’s ballistic missile program through China-based entities.

The DOJ contends that Qiao conspired to send isostatic graphite, a fine-grained material used in the rocket nozzles and nose tips of intercontinental ballistic missiles, to Iran in violation of those U.S. sanctions.

Further, Qiao allegedly worked to conceal Sinotech Dalian’s involvement in the transactions by creating a bank account in the name of a front company which then received two transfers from a U.S. bank totaling over $15,000.

Both Qiao and Li are at large and believed to be in China.

Democracy at Stake

The charges were announced as part of a wider suite of actions taken by the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, a joint program led by the Commerce and Justice Departments and intended to counter efforts by hostile nations to illicitly acquire sensitive U.S. technologies.

Also announced were charges against the Greek Nikolaos Bogonikolos for smuggling U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies to Russia, charges against Russian nationals Oleg Sergeyevich Patsulya and Vasilii Sergeyevich Besedin for conspiracy to commit international money laundering and send aircraft parts to Russian airline companies, and charges against Liming Li and Weibao Wang of China, for their alleged roles in stealing sensitive technologies from American companies for use in China.

“These cases demonstrate the breadth and complexity of the threats we face, as well as what is at stake,” Olsen said.

“We are committed to doing all we can to prevent these advanced tools from falling into the hands of our adversaries, who wield them in ways that threaten not only our nation’s security, but democratic values everywhere.”

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