Two foreign nationals, Hia Soo Gan Benson (Benson Hia) and Lim Kow Seng (Eric Lim), have been extradited from Singapore to stand trial in the District of Columbia in connection with an alleged fraud conspiracy involving the unlawful export of military antennas from the United States to Singapore and Hong Kong. The indictment, originally filed on June 23, 2010, also alleges that the ultimate object of a second conspiracy was to conceal from the U.S. Government that the true destination of another set of antennas was Iran.

According to the indictment both Benson and Seng are charged with 6 criminal counts. Two of the counts are distinct conspiracy charges. The first conspiracy relates to the defendants’ roles in procuring antennas from the United States that were eventually shipped to Iran through Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. The second conspiracy relates to the defendants’ roles in procuring a different kind of antenna from the United States without first applying for a license from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Control (DDTC).

In relation to the above-mentioned conspiracies, the defendants have also been charged with one count of false statements (18 U.S.C. 1001) in connection with license applications filed with the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), one count of false statements (18 U.S.C. 1001) in connection with statements made to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the second conspiracy, one count of smuggling (18 U.S.C. 554) in connection with the second conspiracy, and one count of illegally exporting controlled products with DDTC licenses (22 U.S.C. 2778) in violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).

With regards to the defendants’ specific cases, it may be important for defense counsel to explore whether the two distinct counts of conspiracy are superfluous, especially given the similar conduct and goals involved with both conspiracies. If a review of discovery actually unveils the two conspiracies to in fact be one large conspiracy, defense counsel may decide to move the court to dismiss one of the conspiracy counts.

More telling however, is the U.S. Government’s continued focus on prosecuting export related crimes. This is also consistent with what many people in this field have been dicussing. For example, in 2008 the Department of Justice formed the Export and Anti-proliferation Global Law Enforcement (EAGLE) Task Force. The goal of this task force was to bring together the different federal agencies focused on counter-proliferation work and allow them to share resources and knowledge in this complex area, as well as increase the number of prosecutions in this area.

This level of coordination of resources and increased focus by the federal government requires defense counsel to be even more vigilant. Protecting a defendant’s Constitutional rights becomes even more important because many of the federal agencies working together in this task force may not be familiar with rights afforded criminal defendants because they are civil administrative bodies, and not law enforcement agencies. Moreover, many foreign nationals may not be familiar with the rights afforded to defendants in the U.S. criminal justice system. As such, advising foreign clients to assert their Fifth Amendment rights at various stages of an investigation (including extradition) becomes even more critical in this new era of federal coordination in export control cases.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or ferrari@ferrariassociatespc.com.

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