China General Nuclear Power consultant agrees to guilty plea in US federal court
Taiwan-born naturalised US citizen faces up to 10 years in prison under plea agreement
A US engineer who was a consultant to China General Nuclear Power Corp has agreed to plead guilty to illegally helping the company hire US-based nuclear engineers to speed up the design and manufacture of reactor components.
Allen Ho, 66, is scheduled to enter his plea on Friday in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he was indicted with state-owned China General Nuclear in April. Under a plea agreement filed on Thursday, Ho faces as many as 10 years in prison. When he was indicted, Ho had faced as long as life in prison. The company, China’s biggest nuclear-power operator, has not responded in court to the allegations.
Ho, a naturalised US citizen born in Taiwan, was initially accused in a case that prosecutors called an “extremely significant national-security” matter. He has been detained since his arrest after prosecutors called him a risk to flee to China, where they said he had a second family and spent an average of 290 days a year during the past decade.
The two-count indictment also accused him of acting as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government, a charge the United States will drop under the plea deal. Ho agreed to plead to conspiring to engage in the unauthorised production of special nuclear material outside the US, but “without the intent to injure the United States or secure an advantage to a foreign nation”.
Prosecutors said that between 1997 and 2016, Ho enlisted US nuclear consultants to give technical assistance on China General Nuclear’s small modular reactor programme, its advanced fuel-assembly programme, its fixed in-core detector system, and its nuclear reactor-related computer codes. Such assistance required the approval of the US Department of Energy.
In his plea agreement, Ho admitted he knew he needed such approval because he had tried and failed to obtain it.
Ho’s attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, declined to comment.
In arguing unsuccessfully for bail, Zeidenberg filed court documents that included summaries of interviews by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents with consultants enlisted by Ho. Those documents showed China General Nuclear pressed consultants for years to hand over secret technologies and documents they weren’t supposed to disclose – and in some cases it got them.
One of the documents recounted an FBI conversation with Ching Ning Guey, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to help Beijing obtain restricted nuclear technology – the same charge faced by Ho and the company. Guey is cooperating with US investigators in the Ho case, according to court records.