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5 charged with data conspiracy

One was an engineer on a submarine project in Anaheim. Defense lawyers say the U.S. is straining to make a case about Chinese spying.

October 26, 2006|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

Five family members already facing charges for allegedly failing to register as agents of the Chinese government faced new charges Wednesday after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of conspiring to export sensitive military information.

The 15-count indictment unsealed in Santa Ana includes allegations raised last year against lead defendant Chi Mak and three of his relatives but never pursued by the government until now. Instead, Mak, his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, and his brother, Tai Wang Mak, were charged Nov. 15, 2005, with failing to register as agents of a foreign government.

The new indictment accuses them of conspiring to export technical data regarding sensitive submarine and warship technology to China, and possessing military-related articles aimed at aiding that country. They are also accused of lying to federal investigators.

Also named in the indictment are Tai Mak's wife, Fuk Heung Li, and their son, Yui Mak. The five family members live in Downey and Alhambra.

Prosecutors did not return telephone calls Wednesday but previously had said Chi Mak received requests for specific military information from unnamed Chinese officials. In the conspiracy alleged by the government, Chi Mak and his wife copied the material onto CD-ROM disks and gave them to Tai Mak. Yui Mak encrypted the data and his parents allegedly tried to take them to China in October 2005.

Chi Mak, 66 and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was the lead project engineer on a contract to develop a quiet electric-drive propulsion system for U.S. Navy submarines at Paragon Power in Anaheim.

Authorities said he had security clearance that gave him access to sensitive technical information.

His wife, Chiu, 63, is also a naturalized citizen. Both are originally from China, as are the other defendants.

Federal prosecutors acknowledged last year that the information Chi Mak and the others gathered was not classified. In fact, much of it can be found on the Internet.

Wednesday's indictment, however, says the president has the authority "to control the import and export of defense articles" by placing them on the United States Munitions List, apparently even if they are readily accessible to the public. Articles placed on the list can be exported only by agents of a foreign government registered with the Defense Department, according to the indictment.

The court document does not say whether the articles the defendants allegedly conspired to export to China were on the government's munitions list, or when they might have been placed there.

Attorney Ron Kaye, who represents Chi Mak, said none of the information in his client's possession was restricted.

"The government has a history of overstating this case," he said. "They said he stole government property and retracted the charge. They said he was engaged in espionage and they retracted the charge. They're throwing everything at him, hoping something will stick."

Early in the case, prosecutors also alleged that Chi Mak had obtained plans for a nuclear power plant in New York. Later, however, they said it was merely directions from the airport to the plant that he had downloaded. According to Kaye, Chi Mak's company had a contract with the facility.

John Early, who represents Tai Mak, said the government was "having a hard time picking a charge."

"If it took them a year to figure out that the information was on a restricted list, I'll be interested to see the government's evidence to support the charges," Early said.

Chi Mak, Tai Mak, 57, and Yui Mak, 26, are being held without bail.

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