(Reuters) — Federal prosecutors in New York have been investigating since at least last year whether Chinese tech company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. violated U.S. sanctions in relation to Iran, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The prosecutors have been investigating alleged shipping of U.S.-origin products to Iran and other countries in violation of U.S. export and sanctions laws, two of the sources said on condition of anonymity.
The probe, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, is being run out of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, the sources said. John Marzulli, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the investigation.
The Department of Justice in Washington declined to comment.
Huawei, which makes handsets and telecommunications network equipment, said it complies with “all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including the applicable export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US and EU.”
News of the Justice Department probe follows a series of U.S. actions aimed at stopping or reducing access by Huawei and Chinese smartphone maker ZTE Corp to the U.S. economy amid allegations the companies could be using their technology to spy on Americans.
In February, Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, cited concerns about the spread of Chinese technologies in the United States, which he called “counterintelligence and information security risks that come prepackaged with the goods and services of certain overseas vendors.”
Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton have introduced legislation that would block the U.S. government from buying or leasing telecommunications equipment from Huawei or ZTE, citing concern the Chinese companies would use their access to spy on U.S. officials.
U.S. authorities last week banned American companies from selling to ZTE for seven years, saying the Chinese company had broken a settlement agreement related to Iran sanctions with repeated false statements — a move that threatens to cut off ZTE’s supply chain.
The ZTE ban was the result of its failure to comply with an agreement with the U.S. Commerce Department reached last year after it pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping U.S. goods and technology to Iran.
In 2016, the Commerce Department made documents public that showed ZTE’s misconduct and also revealed how a second company, identified only as F7, had successfully evaded U.S. export controls.
In a 2016 letter to the Commerce Department, 10 U.S. lawmakers said they believed F7 to be Huawei, citing media reports.
In April 2017, lawmakers sent another letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking for F7 to be publicly identified and fully investigated.
(Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru, Karen Freifeld in New York, Eric Auchard in London; Editing by Chris Sanders, Paul Simao and Leslie Adler)