Chinese jailed in US for bid to export military grade carbon fibre to China

Businessman claimed he needed to export material used by armed forces and aerospace industry to China to make hockey sticks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 1:20am

A Chinese citizen accused by the US of trying to illegally export tons of high-grade carbon fibre to his home country for military purposes was sentenced to almost five years in prison.

Ming Suan Zhang, 42, was sentenced on Tuesday in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by attempting to export the fibre to China from the United States without a licence.

He pleaded guilty in August.

"This is a violent world we live in," judge Nicholas Garaufis said during the hearing. "What you were going to do for money could have had dire consequences for millions of people."

Prosecutors alleged Zhang sought the materials for a defence manufacturer, China North Industries, possibly in connection with the test flight of a new fighter jet. Zhang contended he was a sports-equipment seller and wanted carbon fibre to make better hockey sticks.

What you were going to do for money could have had dire consequences

The material involved, M60 carbon fibre manufactured by Tokyo-based Toray Industries, is "an extremely high-grade product" used primarily in aerospace and military applications, assistant attorney Seth DuCharme said in a letter filed with the court.

"While it is theoretically possible to make sporting equipment from this type of fibre, it would be cost prohibitive in most cases," DuCharme wrote, adding that a kilogram of it would cost more than US$2,000. Zhang sought hundreds of kilograms, according to the US.

Zhang came to the attention of US authorities through an investigation into two buyers from Taiwan allegedly working on his behalf who sought to locate large quantities of aerospace-grade carbon fibre through the internet. The buyers eventually came in contact with an undercover agent posing as a supplier, the government said.

Zhang agreed to meet the agent to obtain a sample of the material and was subsequently arrested, the government said.

Zhang, who has been in US custody, told the judge through an interpreter that he was not in good health, had been coughing up blood and had ringing in his ears, and was unable to get proper medical treatment.

"I'd like to request that the prosecutor and the judge demonstrate mercy toward me," he said, later asking if he could "have a shorter sentence". In a letter submitted to the court, Zhang's lawyer Mingli Chen said that his client was poorly educated and had not learned much about the applications of carbon fibre for aerospace and defence purposes.

Zhang faces massive debts from his struggling business, and has a wife and two children who subsist on sales from a small vendor business and loans from friends, his lawyer said.

Zhang also has an elderly mother who is almost blind and was seriously injured after being struck by a vehicle last month, Chen said.

Chen had asked that Zhang receive a sentence of the 15 months he has already served since his arrest in September last year and deportation back to China. In addition to serving prison time, Zhang was ordered to forfeit US$1,000.

"For financial reasons, the defendant, perhaps not even understanding the potential consequences," entered into the agreement with the agent, Garaufis said. "It must have been a pretty sweet deal for him."