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US bans companies from selling components to ZTE for 7 years over illegal shipping to Iran

The ban is the result of ZTE's failure to comply with an agreement with the US government after it pleaded guilty for conspiring to violate US sanctions by illegally shipping US goods and technology to Iran.


Reuters Views : 42
  • The Chinese company paid USD 890 million in fines and penalties. (Image Credit: Reuters)

The US Department of Commerce has banned American companies from selling components to Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp for seven years after breaking an agreement reached after it was caught illegally shipping goods to Iran, US officials said on Monday.

The US action could be devastating to ZTE since American companies are estimated to provide 25 percent to 30 percent of the components used in ZTE’s equipment, which includes smartphones and gear to build telecommunications networks.

The ban is the result of ZTE's failure to comply with an agreement with the US government after it pleaded guilty last year in federal court in Texas to conspiring to violate US sanctions by illegally shipping US goods and technology to Iran, the Commerce Department said.

The Chinese company, which sells smartphones in the United States, paid USD 890 million in fines and penalties, with an additional penalty of USD 300 million that could be imposed.

"If the company is not able to resolve it, they may very well be put out of business by this. Many banks and companies even outside the US are not going to want to deal with them," said Eric Hirschhorn, a former US undersecretary of commerce who was heavily involved in the case.

As part of the agreement, Shenzhen-based ZTE Corp promised to dismiss four senior employees and discipline 35 others by either reducing their bonuses or reprimanding them, senior Commerce Department officials told Reuters. But the Chinese company admitted in March that while it had fired the four senior employees, it had not disciplined or reduced bonuses to the 35 others.

ZTE, whose Hong Kong and Shenzhen shares were suspended on Tuesday, said it was assessing the implications of the US decision and was communicating with "relevant parties."

The Commerce Department order quoted a ZTE official's letter admitting it "had not executed in full" some disciplinary measures and that there were "inaccuracies" in a 2017 letter. But, the Commerce order said, ZTE "argued that it would have been irrational for ZTE to knowingly or intentionally mislead the US government in light of the seriousness of the suspended sanctions."

Under terms of the ban, US companies cannot export prohibited goods, such as chipsets, directly to ZTE or via another country, beginning immediately.

Shares of big US ZTE suppliers fell sharply on the Commerce ban. Optical networking equipment maker Acacia Communications Inc, which got 30 percent of its total 2017 revenue from ZTE, tumbled 35 percent, hitting a nearly two-year low. Acacia said it was suspending affected transactions and assessing the impact.

Shares of optical component companies including Lumentum Holdings Inc fell 8.9 percent and Finisar Corp dropped 4.0 percent. Oclaro Inc, which got 18 percent of its fiscal 2017 revenue from ZTE, lost 14.1 percent.

ZTE "provided information back to us basically admitting that they had made these false statements," said a senior department official. "That was in response to the US asking for the information."

The ban on supplying ZTE comes two months after two Republican senators introduced legislation to block the US government from buying or leasing telecommunications equipment from ZTE or its Chinese rival Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, citing concern the companies would use their access to spy on US officials.

"China does not play by our rules, and we must be vigilant against Chinese threats to both our economic security and national security," said Republican Representative Robert Pittenger after the Commerce announcement. Pittenger is sponsoring legislation that would strengthen the US national security review process for foreign investments.

Meanwhile, Britain's main cybersecurity agency said on Monday it has written to organizations in the UK's telecommunications sector warning about using services or equipment from ZTE.

Country :
United States

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