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Lawyer stands up to ZTE as US alleges visa fraud

Ashley Yablon and book.jpg
Ashley Yablon

Life is about to heat up for Chinese equipment vendor ZTE, as the company stands accused by the US of conspiring to commit visa fraud.

And then on 5 April the former general counsel of ZTE US is publishing a book in which he tells of how the company allegedly set out a plan of “how we will get around US export laws”.

Ashley Yablon, a Dallas lawyer who now advises companies about compliance and ethics, says in the book that the company thought that “the law is only a suggestion”.

Capacity interviews Yablon (pictured) about his experience and his book in this week’s Digital Digest podcast.

The US fined ZTE US$1.2 billion after it admitted using underhand methods to smuggle equipment – containing US hardware and software – to Iran a decade ago.

Yablon says he was the whistleblower who alerted the FBI to ZTE’s plan to break US law. He points out that the normal rules of lawyer-client confidentiality do not apply to plans to break the law in future.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is now revisiting ZTE’s plea in 2017 that it was guilty of illegally shipping US technology to Iran – the admission that led to that $1.2 billion fine.

In such cases, companies are supposed to admit to anything else that they may have done wrong, so those alleged offences can be taken into consideration. But now the DoJ is saying ZTE conspired to commit visa fraud, by bringing researchers into the US on an academic visa and then diverting them from a university to a ZTE office.

A professor at Georgia Tech and a former ZTE research director appeared in court in the US this week accused of conspiring to bring Chinese nationals to the US.

The DoJ is saying they were admitted under a J-1 visa, a non-immigrant visa that is strictly for students and academics doing short-term projects at a US university. It is not a work visa.

Yablon’s book, Standing Up to China: How a Whistleblower Risked Everything for His Country, is published by Brown Books on 5 April. It is available in hardcover from Amazon.com in the US for $27.95, and in the UK from Amazon.co.uk for £20.93.

Capacity has asked ZTE to comment on the allegations.

The Digital Digest podcast is here.

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