A Chinese businessman has pleaded guilty to smuggling marine technology out of the US to help China’s efforts to develop underwater military drones.
Shuren Qin, a marine biologist who owns a company that sells oceanographic instruments, pleaded guilty in Boston federal court to illegally exporting devices called hydrophones, which monitor sound underwater.
His plea related to 10 counts filed in 2018 including conspiring to commit export violations, visa fraud, money laundering and smuggling.
Prosecutors had also accused Qin of exporting unmanned surface vehicles and robotic boats and alleged he had supplied $8m in goods to companies controlled by the Chinese government between 2015 and 2018.
But he only admitted to charges relating to 60 hydrophones worth $100,000. Under a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison sentence at the lower end of his potential 87 to 108 month sentence.
The plea was conditional, and Qin may still appeal a judge’s decision to not suppress evidence against him.
The case comes amid growing concerns about espionage by China on western countries following rows over companies such as tech giant Huawei.
Prosecutors alleged that Northwestern Polytechnical University, a Chinese military research institute, tasked Qin with obtaining items used for anti-submarine warfare. The university was also indicted but never appeared in court.
Qin’s lawyers claimed the businessman was unaware of the university’s intended use for the products.