NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors on Wednesday accused two Taiwanese nationals of trying to buy U.S. military technology on behalf of people they claimed worked in the Chinese government.
Federal prosecutors in Newark, New Jersey said Hui Sheng Shen, 45, and Huan Ling Chang, 41, had been under U.S. investigation since February 2011, when they agreed to sell methamphetamine to undercover federal agents.
But in a series of meetings in September and October 2011 in Las Vegas, Shen and Chang began asking the undercover agents for U.S. military technology, court documents said.
Asked who the technology was for, the Taiwanese defendants said it had been requested by an assistant to a high ranking Chinese official, court documents said.
"The people we met, they come from Beijing... They work for Beijing government... Some kind of intelligence company for Chinese government --like CIA," Shen is quoted in the criminal complaint as telling an undercover agent on a recorded call.
The case of Taiwanese nationals' saying they were working with Chinese officials seemed unusual as Beijing regards self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to recover it. Yet China is the island's top trading partner and contacts between the two nations have increased, despite still frosty relations.
Shen called himself "Charlie" and described himself as a "logistics expert," the complaint said, while Chang, known as "Alice," said she was a schoolteacher.
Shen and Chang were arrested in New York in February on two drug importation charges. On Wednesday, prosecutors added a charge of conspiracy to violate the 1990 U.S. arms embargo against China.
Maria Noto, an attorney for Chang, said: "Ms. Chang maintains her innocence of any criminal wrongdoing. We look forward to her vindication." A lawyer for Shen did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The pair is currently detained. If convicted, they face a maximum 5-year prison term for the arms charge and a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for each drug charge.
Days before their arrest, Shen and Chang met with an undercover agent in New York. At the meeting, they examined a small unmanned drone the agent had brought along as a sample, the complaint said.
The drone, a Raven RQ-11B, which looks like a small handheld aircraft, was part of a list of manuals, aircraft stealth technology and radar technology the Taiwanese pair had requested, the complaint said.
Prosecutors said the undercover agents had been introduced to Shen and Chang by a third person, Soon Ah Kow, 72, of Hong Kong. Kow had been under federal investigation since 2008 for importing counterfeit goods into the U.S.
Kow is in custody in the Philippines awaiting extradition to the United States, prosecutors said. He was indicted in January by a Newark federal grand jury.
(Reporting By Basil Katz)