WASHINGTON (AP) — A Chinese man previously accused of contributing to Iran's ballistic missile program has been charged in the United States with making millions of dollars in illegal financial transactions to avoid economic sanctions, the Justice Department said.
Li Fangwei, who is also known as Karl Lee, faces charges of money laundering, wire fraud and other crimes as part of an indictment issued in New York City. Prosecutors say the federal government also seized nearly $7 million used by front companies he set up to evade sanctions previously imposed on him for his business dealings with Iran.
"These actions send a loud and clear warning to those involved in the illegal proliferation of sensitive materials to Iran that the United States will not spare any efforts to disrupt their actions and bring them to justice," John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Beijing rejected the U.S. charges against Li. "China is firmly opposed to the U.S. invoking its domestic law to unilaterally sanction Chinese companies or individuals," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. "The steps the U.S. took do not help resolve the problem and hurt the bilateral cooperation in nonproliferation.
"The Chinese government gives high priority to efforts on nonproliferation and harshly punishes any acts which violate its laws and regulations on nonproliferation," Qin said.
A fugitive living in China, Li was indicted on similar allegations in 2009 by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and is now the subject of a $5 million bounty being offered by the State Department for information leading to his capture. The Treasury Department also imposed a new round of sanctions Tuesday, against individuals and front companies, designed in part to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Prosecutors say Li, who controls a network of companies in China that have done millions of dollars in business with Iran, has for years supplied the country with ballistic missile parts.
Though the products were banned, and Li and his company previously sanctioned, prosecutors say Li thwarted the sanctions by creating a web of front companies through which he did roughly $8.5 million in business in more than 165 separate transactions. According to the indictment, Li went "underground" after the sanctions, continuing to deal with Iran but through his front companies and using aliases and fake business names to hide the beneficiaries of electronic wire transfers.
Though money was moved through U.S.-based financial institutions, no bank is accused of any wrongdoing, the Justice Department said.
Associated Press news assistant Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.