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Chinese firm ZTE pleads guilty to breaking Iran sanctions

A visitor tests ZTE Blade v8 phone on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

Chinese cellphone equipment maker ZTE Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and pay the United States $892 million for violating sanctions against Iran, the Justice Department said Tuesday. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Chinese cellphone equipment maker ZTE Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and pay the United States $892 million for violating sanctions against Iran, the Justice Department said Tuesday. The department said the company had illegally shipped sensitive U.S.-made equipment to Iran.

The corporation “not only violated export controls that keep sensitive American technology out of the hands of hostile regimes like Iran’s,” the company also “lied to federal investigators and even deceived their own counsel and internal investigators about their illegal acts,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

According to court documents, ZTE obtained the banned goods over a six-year period and shipped them to customers in Iran, knowing that the sales violated the sanctions. ZTE pleaded guilty to three felonies and also settled charges with the Commerce and Treasury departments. It has also agreed to pay another $300 million, suspended during a seven-year-period, if it does not meet the terms of the agreement, which includes the appointment of a corporate compliance monitor.

An official, speaking on anonymity to discuss the terms of the agreement, said it was the largest criminal fine for the Justice Department in an export control or sanctions case.

Officials from the departments described an elaborate scheme by the company to ship about $32 million worth of U.S.-made equipment to Iran while lying to federal investigators. ZTE hid the data related to the transactions from a forensic accounting firm.