A Chinese American electrical engineer is facing more than two centuries behind bars for illegally shipping military-grade semiconductors to Chengdu, Sichuan province in southwest China.
On June 26, Shih Yi-chi, 64, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was found guilty of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), a federal law that prohibits unauthorized exports.
Shih, a former adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was also found guilty of mail fraud, wire fraud, filing false tax returns, making false statements to a government agency and conspiring to gain unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, according to the Department of Justice.
Convicted of 18 counts, Shih faces up to 219 years of imprisonment, as well as forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets.
“The Department’s China Initiative is focused on preventing and prosecuting thefts of American technology and intellectual property for the benefit of China,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “The defendant has been found guilty of conspiring to export sensitive semiconductor chips with military applications to China.”
“This defendant schemed to export to China semiconductors with military and civilian uses, then he lied about it to federal authorities and failed to report income generated by the scheme on his tax returns,” said U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna for the Central District of California. “My office will enforce laws that protect our nation’s intellectual property from being used to benefit foreign adversaries who may compromise our national security.”
Based on the evidence presented in the trial, Shih and co-defendant Kiet Ahn Mai, 65, gained unauthorized access to a protected computer of an unnamed U.S. company that sells high-power semiconductors called monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs).
Shih, who posed as a customer to acquire the hardware, then sent them to Chengdu GaStone Technology (CGTC), where he had previously served as president.
MMICs cannot be exported without authorization from the Commerce Department, which Shih did not possess.
According to the Justice Department, the semiconductors have both commercial and military functions; they are used in missiles, missile guidance systems, fighter jets, electronic warfare, electronic warfare countermeasures and radar applications.
Shih’s lawyer, James Spertus, argued that his client never sent semiconductors to China but designed them for a legitimate research project.
“What the government did is a black eye on our justice system. It was a major miscarriage of justice,” Spertus said, according to the South China Morning Post.
He added that Shih — who plans to make an appeal — was only “caught” in the ongoing trade war.
“This was a railroad effort by the government to send a strong message back to China. Shih got caught in a trade war he had nothing to do with.”