WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Chinese nationals pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Wednesday to conspiring to violate American export control laws by attempting to buy microchips for use in China's military and space programs.
Hong Wei Xian, 32, and Li Li, 33, the president and vice president of Beijing Starcreates Space Science and Technology Development Company Limited, admitted their guilt at a federal court hearing in Virginia, the Justice Department said.
They each face up to five years in prison at sentencing on August 26. The two defendants were arrested in September last year in Hungary on a U.S. arrest warrant and were brought to the United States in April after they waived extradition.
According to their guilty pleas, Xian and Li admitted that they contacted from April 2009 through September last year a U.S. company seeking to buy thousands of high-technology, radiation-hardened microchips. They knew an export license was required, but did not try to obtain one.
The Virginia-based company, which prosecutors declined to identify, alerted U.S. authorities who then began an undercover investigation, a department official said.
According to the indictment in the case, Beijing Starcreates imports and sells programmable read-only memory chips to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, a state company that plays a substantial role in research, design and development of strategic and tactical missile systems for China's military.
U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride, whose office prosecuted the case, described it as the latest in a series in which China has sought to obtain sensitive U.S. defense technology or economic trade secrets as part of an effort to modernize its military.
"Today's convictions represent another example of the threat posed by those who illegally seek to obtain advanced American military technology for the benefit of China, both economically and militarily," MacBride told reporters.
Senior Chinese government officials have been pressing Washington for years to relax Cold War-era controls on exports of high-technology goods with dual civilian and military uses.
(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by David Lawder)