A US citizen of Chinese origin on Wednesday pleaded guilty at a federal court in Los Angeles to charges of conspiring to smuggle 200 Chinese shoulder-fired missiles to the US through Cambodia, media reports said Thursday.
US authorities obtained an indictment in November against Chao Tung Wu, 51, as well as Californian Yi Qing Chen, 41, charging them with attempting to smuggle the heat-seeking Qianwei-2 missiles—which are designed to shoot down aircraft—into the US, according to a November statement by the US Department of Justice.
Court documents state that the pair claimed to an undercover US Federal Bureau of Investigations agent that bribed officials could help ship the missiles out of China and through Cambodia, Reuters reported Thursday. It was unclear when and where this conversation occurred.
Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh said the government has no information about missiles going through Cambodia.
“If we learn about this, we will confiscate them. We do not allow anyone to do this,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Cambodia has taken a leading role among Asean countries in the fight against weapons trafficking. “We do not allow the [shipment of] missiles to other countries,” he said.
In the US Justice Department statement, federal prosecutors alleged that the suspects told the FBI agent that an unidentified “third country” would order the missiles for itself and then ship them to the US.
“As part of the scheme, the missiles would allegedly have been fraudulently manifested as ‘civilian’ equipment, such as machine components,” the statement said.
The missiles were never delivered, and other documents suggested that Paraguay rather than Cambodia was to be used as the third country, Reuters said.
The scheme was to have involved paying a $2 million bribe to a relative of the president of one of the countries involved, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The alleged conspiracy was uncovered in August as part of an investigation of a network of smugglers in the US dealing in Ecstasy, methamphetamines, counterfeit goods and over $1 million worth of counterfeit $100 “supernotes,” the US Justice Department said.
Chao Tung Wu and Yi Qing Chen were initially indicted by a federal grand jury that month on charges of involvement in that network. Sentencing for Chao Tung Wu is scheduled for July 31, while Yi Qing Chen, who has not pleaded guilty, is scheduled to go on trial on June 27. The pair face 25 years to life in prison.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the US was satisfied with security cooperation from Cambodian officials, adding that he knew nothing about the case.
“There’s nothing unique about the situation in Cambodia that makes us worried,” he said.
Cambodia has, in the past, been identified as a possible source of weapons for regional armed groups, including Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, rebels on the Thai-Burmese border and separatists in Indonesia’s Aceh province.
On April 5, two anti-tank Armbrust missiles were seized and three men arrested in Phnom Penh, after they allegedly attempted to sell them to undercover police officers.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)