Chinese Employee of MKS Instruments Inc. Arrested For Smuggling Uranium Making & Enriching Equipment To China

(Jonathan Phelps)   A Chinese employee of Andover-based MKS Instruments Inc. is being held without bail following charges he smuggled equipment into China that can be used to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium.

Qiang “Johnson” Hu, 47, a representative from the company’s sales office in Shanghai, was in federal court in Boston yesterday for an initial hearing on charges that he illegally exported $6.5 million worth of pressure-measuring sensors manufactured by MKS to China.

These sensors are commonly known as pressure transducers, according to the documents.

Hu was ordered held without bail and a detention hearing has been scheduled for May 31 at 11 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler. His charges are officially listed as “willful conspire to violate Export Administration Regulations.”

Pressure transducers are export-controlled because “they are used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium and produce weapons-grade uranium,” according to a court affidavit filed by Catherine Donovan, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Commerce in Boston.

Officials at the Department of Commerce and U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return phone calls and an e-mail from The Eagle-Tribune seeking comment. Hu has been a sales manager at MKS Instruments Shanghai, Ltd., a subsidiary of MKS, since 2008, according to court documents.

The alleged illegal exporting began at a time unknown, “but not later than March 2007 and continuing to present,” according to the documents.

The transducers, which are manufactured in the United States, are used in the manufacture of many products — primarily semiconductors, high-brightness LEDs and medical sterilizers, according the MKS product information.

MKS is cooperating with the investigation and U.S. government authorities have made it clear that MKS is not a target of the investigation, according to a statement from the company.

“MKS is conducting its own investigation into these matters and the individual’s suspected violation of corporate policies,” the statement read. “While MKS does not expect any of the alleged violations to have a material adverse effect upon its business, the disruption caused by this matter could adversely affect its Shanghai sales office.”

The company, founded in 1961, also said it has a strong record of complying with U.S. export control rules and have never been the target of a government investigation or administrative inquiry.

According to the documents, Hu and an unnamed “co-conspirator” fraudulently obtained export licenses for legitimate MKS business customers, but instead delivered the pressure transducers to third-party customers that lacked such licenses.

“As a result of the conspiracy and illegal activities of Hu and his co-conspirators, thousands of MKS pressure transducers were smuggled from the United States and delivered to unknown and unauthorized end-users who do not certify, as required by law, that the pressure transducer would not be used in nuclear activities or re-exported to another country,” Donovan wrote.

If convicted, Hu could face up to 20 years of imprisonment, according to the court documents.

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