Reward Offered for Chinese Fugitive With Iranian Missile Ties
The U.S. is stacking charges against Li Fangwei, a fugitive who is a main supplier for Iran’s ballistic missile program.
The State Department announced a $5 million reward on April 29 for information leading to Li’s arrest. The Department of Justice also announced new charges against Li, including conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud, and wire fraud.
Yet, Li will likely not stand trial for his alleged crimes. He’s in China, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States, and Chinese authorities aren’t showing signs they plan to arrest him.
According to William Triplett, a longtime China analyst and author of books including “Bowing to Beijing,” it would be difficult for Li to operate in China without ties to Chinese authorities.
“I think it’s very unlikely that such a person could operate without having some connections to Beijing,” Triplett said in a phone interview.
The Chinese regime was previously made aware of Li’s activities.
According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, the United States “raised concern with China” over at least one of the sales Li was involved in. The report mentions no response from China.
The report details Li’s involvement with sales of materials to Iran, which can be used in ballistic missiles.
His name shows up several times in the report on sanctions for weapons proliferation, which also uses Li’s other name, Karl Lee. He was sanctioned in April 7, 2009 for missile proliferation. He was again sanctioned for weapons proliferation on July 14, 2010, and again on May 23, 2011.
According to Triplett, it is likely that Li was operating as an agent within China. He said, “You can’t operate in that kind of atmosphere” otherwise.
“This guy is up there, and he’s big,” said Triplett, referencing reports on Chinese spies and a WikiLeaks document which details China’s arms sales to Iran.
While Li was sanctioned several times, he was able to dodge the sanctions using a network of front companies under his control, according to a Department of Justice press release.
The release also notes that “Li Fangwei controls a large network of industrial companies based in eastern China.”
These companies aren’t just fluff either. Li allegedly made 165 illegal transactions, adding up to nearly $8.5 million. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI announced they seized close to $7 million from Li’s front companies.
Whether or not Chinese authorities choose to extradite Li, however, according to Triplett the reward for Li’s arrest does send a message.
“It sends a signal to the Chinese,” Triplett said. “It says basically you can’t get away with everything forever—and that should make some people nervous.”
“We have kind of a joke that when the files of Beijing are opened we will be astounded by what we see,” he said.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added eight of Li’s front companies to the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.
The Department of Commerce also added nine of Li’s China-based suppliers to its Entity List.
If arrested and convicted, Li could be in prison for life. Six of the charges against him each carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison. He also faces up to 30 years for the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.