By Martha Bellisle
SEATTLE (AP) — A jury has found a Fijian man guilty of coming to the U.S. to buy devices used in aircraft, satellites, and missiles so he could sell them to China, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
After a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Seattle last week and three hours of deliberations, the jury rejected claims by William Ali that the case was entrapment by agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Ali, who lives in New Zealand, had claimed that an undercover agent induced him to come to Seattle to purchase the devices.
Federal prosecutors argued successfully that Ali sought the accelerometers and gyroscopes for a customer in China. Anyone exporting the devices must first acquire a license from the U.S. Department of State. Ali, 37, opted against getting a license, despite warnings that he would be violating the law.
His sentencing was set for March 16.
The felony charge of conspiracy to violate the Export Control Act carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. Attempting to violate the act is punishable by up to 20 years and a $1 million fine.
Messages sent to Ali’s lawyer seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Ali is an engineer who has worked for Air Fiji and Air New Zealand, court records said. He also ran a small company called Aircraft Mechanics and Logistics that sells aircraft parts.
Last year, a customer in China contacted Ali about acquiring accelerometers, which used to measure how fast something is accelerating or slowing down, and gyroscopes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods.
Ali sent emails to the company that makes the device seeking information about exporting them, and the company alerted the Counter-Proliferation Investigations agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Special Agent Christy Clerf testified.
The agency tries “to prevent foreign adversaries from acquiring sensitive weapons technology” and sent an undercover agent to determine if Ali knew that exporting the devices was illegal, and to find out where he planned to sell them, Clerf said.
The agent, who pretended to be a broker, warned Ali in emails that his plans violated U.S. law, but Ali “laughed and joked” that he hoped his emails were not intercepted, Clerk testified.
Ali flew to the U.S. in April to meet the agent and was arrested in a Seattle hotel.
Ali’s lawyer, John Crowley, argued that it was the agent who suggested criminal activity. He said Ali was “extremely reluctant to participate in the offense” but was persuaded by the undercover agent, Crowley said.
Although the device was used in aircraft, satellites, and missile systems, “Mr. Ali has no knowledge of the utility of that part outside of its application to commercial aircraft and in particular the Chinese built Y-12” turboprop aircraft, Crowley said.
Not true, said Woods.
“The defendant knew perfectly well what these parts were and what they were for… missile and space technology,” Woods told the jury. “He went forward with the deal anyway.”