Feds May Charge Huawei with Stealing Trade Secrets

Senior editor, security and privacy
Updated

Federal prosecutors are getting ready to hit Huawei with criminal charges for allegedly stealing trade secrets from American companies, The Wall Street Journal reported today (Jan. 16).

Credit: viewimage/ShutterstockCredit: viewimage/Shutterstock

Citing unnamed sources, the Journal said the criminal investigation stems from several civil lawsuits filed against Huawei, including one involving a smartphone-testing robot called "Tappy" developed by T-Mobile.

The criminal probe just makes things worse for Huawei, which has been accused of being a national-security threat to Western countries and whose CFO is awaiting extradition from Canada to the U.S. for allegedly exporting U.S. technology to Iran in violation of sanctions.

China has harassed Canadian nationals in retaliation, and this week slapped the death penalty on a Canadian convicted of drug smuggling several months ago.

MORE: Why Huawei's Killer Phones Can't Crack the U.S.

Huawei products have already been labeled national-security threats in the U.S. AT&T and Verizon last year reportedly canceled plans to offer the Huawei Mate 10 just before that device was set to hit the U.S. market; the Mate 10 still was unvailable unlocked, but the majority of U.S. smartphone buyers get their devices through carriers, so that was a big blow to Huawei. Overseas, Australia and New Zealand have recently barred local companies from using Huawei equipment, and British telecom BT said it would phase out using Huawei hardware and software.

On Dec. 1, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the company's founder, as she changed planes in Vancouver in response to a request by the U.S. Department of Justice. She faces extradition to the U.S. for allegedly skirting laws forbidding the sale of U.S. technology to Iran and posted $10 million Canadian ($7.5 million U.S.) in bail.

Last week, Poland arrested a Huawei employee on spying charges. Yesterday (Jan. 15), a top research lab in Taiwan banned Huawei equipment from connecting to its network.

Asked by the Journal, neither the Department of Justice nor Huawei would comment on the purported criminal probe.

In 2003, Cisco sued Huawei for using Cisco code in Huawei routers. Huawei admitted the "misappropriation" and removed the code from its products in exchange for Cisco dropping the lawsuit.