Huawei’s Iran Ties Under U.S. Scrutiny

Six U.S. lawmakers have urged the State Department to investigate whether Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei violated sanctions on Iran by selling it censorship and tracking technology. From The Wall Street Journal:

The lawmakers’ request came in a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Dec. 22 that was made public this week. It repeatedly cites the findings of a front-page Wall Street Journal article in October that documented how Huawei’s business grew in Iran following a pullback by Western companies after the government’s bloody crackdown on its citizens in 2009.

The article reported, among other things, that Huawei made a pitch last year to Iranian government officials to sell equipment for a mobile news service on Iran’s second-largest mobile-phone operator, MTN Irancell. According to a person who attended the meeting, Huawei representatives emphasized that, being from China, they had expertise censoring the news. Huawei won the contract.

Huawei also has provided support for technology that can allow the government to track the location of people through their cellphones, the Journal reported. Iranian human-rights groups outside Iran say there are dozens of documented cases in which dissidents were traced and arrested that way.

Huawei responded by claiming that the allegations, which it has dealt with since last year, were based on inaccurate media reports. From Reuters:

“Unfortunately, a few Members of Congress continue to cite inaccurate media reports that include groundless allegations,” Huawei, the world’s No.2 telecommunications gear maker, said in an emailed statement.

Huawei also said on Wednesday that it had responded to similar allegations in November, saying that its work in Iran was for commercial and civilian use and that it did not have technology that could be used for news censorship. It also said that it was just one of many telecom equipment providers in Iran and was not the supplier in the country.

“The letter actually contains nothing new. I have forgotten how many times we have seen such allegations,” said a source close to Huawei, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the public.

The latest allegations add to an already strained relationship between the United States and Huawei, which hopes to build on initial inroads into the stateside mobile device market as part of its ambitious growth plans. In November, The House Intelligence Committee launched an investigation into Huawei, along with fellow Shenzhen-based company ZTE, to determine whether their expansion into America posed a security threat in light of mounting evidence of Chinese cyber espionage against U.S. corporations.