Huawei CFO linked to firm selling tech to Iran: Report

A Hong Kong firm with "ties" to Chinese firm Huawei, which the US House Intelligence Committee warned US businesses to avoid doing business with, attempted to sell HP equipment to Iran. But, the devil is in the company details and how close the two firms were.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Corporate records show that a Hong Kong-based firm that attempted to sell HP equipment to an Iranian mobile phone operator has stronger ties to China-based Huawei than first thought.

Huawei headquarters. (Credit: Jay Greene/CNET)

First reported by the Reuters news agency, the telecoms equipment giant's Cathy Meng--the daughter of the firm's chief executive--served on the board of Skycom Tech Ltd for a 14-month period between 2008 and 2009, and also the company chief financial officer during 2007, according to Skycom records filed with Hong Kong's regulators.

The news agency also reported deep ties between the two companies, including some naming the "joint venture" on their LinkedIn pages, carrying Huawei business cards, and also owning Huawei corporate email addresses.

Reuters noted that in 2010, Skycom's Tehran-based office offered to sell at least 1.3 million euros (US$1.76 million) of HP-branded gear to Iran's Mobile Telecommunications Co, despite US trade sanctions in place.

Marked with "confidential" labels and logos belonging to the Chinese technology giant, Huawei said that neither it nor Skycom provided to equipment--in spite of calling Skycom one of its "major local partners."

Huawei described the relationship between the company and Skycom as a "normal business partnership," but did not deny that it sells telecoms equipment to Iran, as it is not covered under the US trade embargo, unlike HP.

Another Chinese telecoms provider, ZTE--a rival to Huawei--was previously reported as being investigated by US authorities for allegedly selling technology to the "rogue" Middle Eastern state, according to leaked documents. Hardware and software components from Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Dell, Cisco, and Symantec were shipped to Iran by ZTE, according to a 907-page packing list document discovered by Reuters last year.

Last year, a report by the US House Intelligence Committee alleged that both Huawei and ZTE had links to the Chinese government, and that the firm could be engaged in espionage. Both companies deny that they are spying for the Chinese, but the House committee warned US businesses not to buy from the two companies.

And, earlier this month, amid fears over Chinese espionage, Huawei gear was removed from a US nuclear lab over fears that US secrets could be uncovered.

The new report suggesting links to Iran may reignite the debate over dealing with Chinese companies, or firms with less-than-reputable track records.

It's not uncommon for Chinese companies to have dealings with Iran; the two states may be politically similar in a number of ways, and on the most part shun the Western democracies. But over the years, selling third-party equipment from a US firm, which is under embargoes to prevent the superpower from inadvertently helping in nefarious nuclear-related schemes, has become increasingly publicized.

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