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Taiwanese man with ties to north suburbs pleads guilty in North Korea WMD case

A Taiwanese man pleaded guilty Friday to teaming up with his son, who lives in Glenview, to evade a U.S. ban on selling weapon-making equipment to North Korea.

Hsien Tsai — also known as Alex Tsai — exported machinery with his son Gary, 37, that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction, prosecutors said.

The frail father looked every one of his 68 years as, speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, he entered a guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle Friday morning.

Under the terms of the deal, he’ll have to testify for the government at his son’s trial. In return for his guilty plea to a single count of evading U.S. law on the proliferation of WMDs, prosecutors agreed to drop nine other counts, capping the potential sentence he faces at five years.

But his attorney, Steven Shobat, said it’s possible the son will also reach a plea deal before his trial. The elder Tsai has already served 18 months behind bars since he was arrested while he was on vacation in Tallinn, Estonia, and should be eligible for release soon, he said.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security say the Tsais were part of a web of people who export metal-fabrication machinery — using companies with different names — that could be used to create WMDs.

Alex Tsai was previously indicted in 2008 by Taiwanese prosecutors for forging invoices and shipping restricted materials to North Korea, according to federal records. In 2009, the Treasury Department identified him as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and prohibited anyone from doing business with him or his two Taiwanese companies.

Despite the seriousness of the charges, there were lighter moments during his change of plea hearing Friday morning, when Norgle, in a slow and deliberate effort to determine whether Tsai was capable of intelligently following the court proceedings through a Mandarin interpreter, quizzed Tsai about his breakfast.

“What did you have?,” the judge asked.

“I ate what they gave me in the jail,” Tsai replied, through the interpreter.

“What was it?,” the judge asked.

“Milk and cereal,” Tsai said.

“And how was it?,” asked the judge.

“It was… OK,” Tsai said.

Alex Tsai Complaint