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Huawei said to be probed by FBI for possible Iran violations

Huawei notes and bonds down; share prices of some Huawei suppliers in Asia also slide after the news

Hong Kong

THE US Justice Department has joined two other agencies probing Huawei Technologies Co for possible violations of sanctions banning sales to Iran, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is overseen by the Justice Department, have been looking into transactions by the Shenzhen, China-based mobile and telecommunications giant, the people said. According to one of them, the criminal inquiry grew out of an earlier sanctions-violation probe that ultimately led to penalties against another Chinese technology company, ZTE Corp.

The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which enforces sanctions, and the Department of Commerce are also looking into Huawei's transactions.

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The Commerce Department in 2016 issued an administrative subpoena aimed at Huawei, China's largest maker of telecommunications equipment, seeking information about whether it was sending US technology to rogue nations including Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Earlier this month, the Commerce Department banned ZTE, China's second-biggest network equipment maker, from buying US-made components as punishment for violating a sanctions settlement over transactions with Iran and North Korea.

ZTE had previously reached a settlement with the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, and pleaded guilty as part of a sanctions-violations agreement with the Justice Department. ZTE agreed to pay US$892 million in fines and forfeitures in the Justice Department deal, at the time the largest US criminal fine against a Chinese company, with additional fines if it failed to comply with the deal.

Internal ZTE documents posted on the Commerce Department website cited a rival, referred to only as "F7", as also violating US export controls in sales of equipment to Iran.

A group of Republican lawmakers pushed the Trump administration last April to investigate and identify F7, citing news reports that have highlighted the similarities between the company described in the documents and Huawei.

The FBI and OFAC investigations into Huawei have been going on since at least early 2017, according to one of the people with knowledge of the probes, who asked not to be identified because he isn't authorised to speak about the matter.

A finding of wrongdoing by Huawei and a similar US supplier export ban "would have wide ramifications on various suppliers on a larger scale than peer ZTE, in our view," according to Bloomberg Intelligence technology analysts Woo Jin Ho and Anand Srinivasan.

"Chip suppliers such as Skyworks and Qorvo, each with about 10 per cent sales exposure to Huawei, would be affected. Optical suppliers including NeoPhotonics, Oclaro and Lumentum may also be exposed."

Some Huawei suppliers in Asia slid after the news, with Chinasoft International Ltd. tumbling as much as 21 per cent and Sunny Optical Technology Group Co fell 7.4 per cent.

Huawei Technologies' US$500 million of 2027 notes fell 0.9 cents on the dollar to a record low of 93.2 cents in Hong Kong trading. Its bonds are the worst performers in the Bloomberg Barclays Asia dollar bond index on Thursday.

Glenn Schloss, a spokesman for Huawei in Shenzhen, declined to comment about the probes. The company has said it complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including US export controls and sanctions laws and regulations, and that it "actively cooperates" with government agencies regarding its compliance.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Separately, the US Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously last week to ban federal funds from being used to purchase networking gear from companies determined to be a national security risk, dealing another blow to ZTE and Huawei. The measure has yet to be finalised.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai cited the risk of "hidden 'back doors' to our networks in routers, switches and other equipment" that could "allow hostile foreign powers to inject viruses and other malware".

Mr Schloss, the Huawei spokesman, said those allegations aren't true. "We pose no security threat in any country," he said.

"US authorities should not base government decisions on speculation or rumour. In 30 years, not a single operator has experienced a security issue with our equipment." BLOOMBERG