By Samuel Rubenfeld
Thursday, October 14, 2021
VTA Telecom Corporation, a California-based company, agreed this week to pay USD 1.87 million to resolve allegations that the firm provided false information on several occasions to the U.S. government to conceal the defense purposes of its exports.
VTA Telecom began procuring goods in 2015 from the U.S. for its parent company, a state-owned telecommunications firm based in Hanoi, according to charging documents issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). The items, then-executives knew, were intended to support a defense program, but the company provided false information to BIS and other agencies when seeking licenses, the documents said.
“BIS will not tolerate exporters that provide false representations related to export regulations and laws,” said Kevin J. Kurland, acting assistant secretary of Commerce for export enforcement at BIS.
VTA Telecom had provided plausible but false civil end-uses for the products, according to BIS. On the basis of those false end-user statements, BIS granted licenses to VTA Telecom for exports in 2016 of transistors and development tools; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a hold order on some items after being presented the same statements, the BIS documents said. VTA Telecom made other false statements on export documents that year, including for shipments of goods that needed licenses, BIS found.
BIS suspended USD 200,000 of the USD 1.87 million penalty amount for two years pending satisfaction of certain conditions, including certain compliance obligations, the agency said. Among the obligations: Spending USD 25,000 on additional export control compliance efforts and retaining a director of trade compliance for two years, according to the BIS documents.
VTA Telecom's most recent exports were 50 shipments of components on May 2, 2018, worth about USD 3,000 to a company called Công Ty Tnhh Công Nghệ Epi Việt Nam, an electronics distributor whose name translates to EPI Vietnam Technologies Co., Ltd., according to trade records.
U.S. scrutiny of VTA Telecom appears to have been made public in June 2019 by the tech outlet One Zero. The parent company, named as the Vietnamese state-owned telecom giant Viettel, was under a national security probe for seeking to procure missile engines and guidance equipment though its subsidiary, the One Zero report said.
Viettel is Vietnam’s largest telecommunications company, and it has 20 subsidiaries operating in various other economic sectors, including investment, real estate and foreign trade, according to its website. In 2006, Viettel moved to expand globally, and among its brands is Mytel, a telecommunications firm in Myanmar, the website said.
Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a Burmese military-linked conglomerate sanctioned by the U.S., U.K., Canada and the European Union, has a minority stake in Mytel through a subsidiary, Kharon reported in April. MEC leaders are involved in, and on the board of Mytel, Kharon found at the time. Hundreds of thousands lost Internet access after Mytel’s equipment was damaged in attacks since Myanmar coup opponents had declared a “people’s defensive war,” against the military junta, Reuters reported last month.
In 2013, VTA Telecom applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the right to provide international telecommunications services from the U.S. However, the company didn’t tell the FCC that its state-owned parent’s name in Vietnamese is Tập đoàn Công nghiệp Viễn thông Quân đội, which translates to “Military Telecommunications Industry Group,” or that Viettel is owned and operated by the defense ministry, One Zero reported. VTA Telecom withdrew its application to the FCC in June 2020, according to records seen by Kharon.
The One Zero report also pointed to the criminal prosecution of Huy Quang Bui, who had incorporated VTA Telecom in Florida under a prior name, Viettel America Corporation, according to state records. Bui eventually got himself caught in a sting operation while seeking various U.S.-controlled goods at the direction of his superiors, One Zero reported. Bui pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison, according to the U.S. court docket. He was then deported back to Vietnam to be with his family, the One Zero report said.