ZTE denies knowledge of alleged US bribery investigation

Reports claim that ZTE may have paid off foreign officials to strengthen its global business position.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

ZTE has denied any knowledge of a reported investigation by US officials into alleged bribery practices. 

On Friday, NBC News reported that the Chinese telecommunications giant is facing scrutiny by investigators belonging to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) over alleged bribes "ZTE paid to foreign officials to gain advantages in its worldwide operations."

According to two unnamed sources close to the matter, the investigation is new and wholly separate from a case three years ago, in which ZTE pleaded guilty to contravening US sanctions against Iran and North Korea. 

At the time, ZTE agreed to pay $892 million to the US in penalties to settle claims of conspiracy to unlawfully export products, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to investigators. 

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It is not known what transactions, deals, or countries are allegedly connected to the new investigation. 

ZTE's code of conduct bans bribes both at home and abroad. Last week, ZTE told NBC News that "ZTE is fully committed to meeting its legal and compliance obligations."

In response to the report, the company -- a rival of Chinese telecoms firm Huawei -- posted a notice on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock exchanges, as noted by Reuters, saying, "The company would like to clarify that it has not received notices from the relevant government departments of the United States in this regard."

Since 2017 and the settlement of ZTE's former corruption case, the company has been subject to requirements implemented by the DoJ on the pain of millions of dollars in further penalties if the company failed to comply with independent monitoring and improved compliance and ethics programs. 

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An export ban was then imposed in 2018 after the US Commerce Department ascertained the agreement had been broken. 

The consequences were severe for ZTE and the business was effectively crippled after the US administration banned US companies from trading with the firm. The ban was lifted during the same year after ZTE agreed to a financial penalty, stricter compliance monitoring, and the replacement of board executives. 

Last week, the Trump Administration banned organizations from using federal funds to purchase equipment from businesses deemed threats to national security. 

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The new Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act is described as a way to "protect our [the US] telecommunications infrastructure," according to the White House, and impacts companies including Huawei and ZTE, both of which have been labeled as problematic by the FCC. 

In addition, the legislation will provide up to $1 billion to assist smaller businesses in removing and replacing what is now prohibited equipment manufactured by these companies.

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