"Conspirators used licences of legitimate customers"
Pakistan is circumventing matters of legality and geopolitical complexities in the procurement process for nuclear components.
This may well be the conclusion reached in the case of Qiang Hu, a Chinese national who has been charged in Massachusetts with “conspiracy for violating U.S. export controls by allegedly selling thousands of pressure transducers to unnamed customers through his position of sales manager at MKS Instruments Shanghai Ltd. in China”.
Among the list of nations that use pressure transducers to measure the gas pressure inside centrifuge cascades in nuclear plants is Pakistan. The list reportedly includes Iran and possibly North Korea, but Pakistan, according to experts at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, is among those nations that “use a considerable quantity of the equipment in their centrifuge plants and have regularly sought them through surreptitious means as used in this alleged scheme”.
That Islamabad was a likely final customer of Mr. Hu’s deceptions cannot be ruled out. According to a report published by ISIS on this case, “Hu and his co-conspirators allegedly arranged their unlawful export to unauthorised Chinese end-users or to other, unnamed country end-users”.
The report’s authors, David Albright and Andrea Stricker, told The Hindu that while recent case studies or evidence of Pakistani procurements of pressure transducers may not be available, Pakistan is “likely procuring them, assuming they don’t have enough in their centrifuge plants or haven’t made them themselves”.
With the general assumption here that illicit procurement of components is quite a common practice experts are now urging that the U.S. ought to designate China a ‘Destination of Diversion Concern’, an action that would then require companies there to apply for special licences to import controlled or sensitive U.S. goods on account of the high risk that they may be diverted to rogue nuclear powers.
Nuclear screws may indeed be tightened on China in the second Obama term as the Hu case also suggested acute embarrassment for U.S. law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau Investigation’s complaint in the matter, for example, cited “deception” that Mr. Hu and his co-conspirators resorted to, in order to procure export licences.
Two ways of deception
The complaint argues that they used two primary means of deception to export the pressure transducers. First, “the conspirators used licences issued to legitimate MKS business customers to export the pressure transducers to China and then caused the parts to be delivered to other end-users who were not themselves named on the export licences or authorised to receive the parts”, the FBI said, adding that the conspirators then “obtained export licences in the name of a front company and then used these fraudulently obtained licences to export the parts to China, where they were delivered to the actual end-users”.
However, MKS Instruments itself was not a target of the government’s investigation into these matters, the FBI noted, adding that Mr. Hu remained in custody and faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, to be followed by up to three years of supervised release, and a $1 million fine.