Jail for Chinese man trying to export carbon fibre with military applications from US

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Chinese man who pleaded guilty to US charges of illegally trying to export to China high-grade carbon fibre used primarily in aerospace and military applications was sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday (Aug 31).

The sentence imposed on Sun Fuyi Sun by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, in Manhattan federal court, was less than the 46 months called for by federal guidelines. Judge Hellerstein said he was taking into account Sun's mental health conditions, which include bipolar disorder.

Sun's attorneys had said in a court filing that Sun was manipulated into trying to export the carbon fibre by his older brother. Ms Amy Gallicchio, one of the attorneys, declined to comment after Thursday's hearing.

Sun, 53, has already spent 16 months in jail, which will count towards the three-year sentence. Ms Gallicchio had argued at the hearing that he should be sentenced to time served, saying his mental health treatment while in US custody had not been adequate.

"I would like to be able to return to China to resume my medical treatment so I can recover from my mental conditions," Sun said through an interpreter before being sentenced.

Sun was arrested in April 2016 after he travelled to the US to obtain M60 carbon fibre, which is used in military drone aircraft, from people working as undercover US law enforcement agents, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty in April 2017.

Sun began trying to acquire the carbon fibre around 2011, and repeatedly told undercover agents the fibre he wanted would go to the Chinese military with which he said he had a close relationship, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Sun asked the undercover agents about buying about 450kg of carbon fibre for more than US$62,000. When he met the agents in New York last April, they say, Sun agreed to pay US$25,000 for carbon fibre.

Sun took steps to conceal the purchase from US authorities, including asking the undercover agents to use "banana" as a code word for "carbon fibre" and falsifying customs documents, prosecutors said.

His arrest underlined tensions between the US and China over intellectual property rights. The FBI has said cases of economic espionage rose 53 per cent in 2015, the majority of which involved Chinese nationals.