China General Nuclear Consultant Agrees to U.S. Guilty Pleaby
Allen Ho said to help company hire engineers without approval
Engineer’s prison term would be cut to 10 years from life
An American engineer who was a consultant to China General Nuclear Power Corp. agreed to plead guilty to illegally helping the company hire U.S.-based nuclear engineers to speed the design and manufacture of reactor components.
Allen Ho, 66, is scheduled to enter his plea Friday in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he was indicted with state-owned China General Nuclear in April. Under a plea agreement filed Thursday, Ho faces as many as 10 years in prison. When he was indicted, Ho had faced as long as life in prison. The company, China’s biggest nuclear-power operator, hasn’t responded in court to the allegations.
Ho, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, was initially accused in a case that prosecutors called an “extremely significant national-security” matter. He has been detained since his arrest after prosecutors called him a risk to flee to China, where they said he has a second family and spent an average of 290 days a year during the past decade.
The two-count indictment also accused him of acting as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government, a charge the U.S. will drop under the plea deal. He agreed to plead to conspiring to engage in the unauthorized production of special nuclear material outside the U.S., but “without the intent to injure the United States or secure an advantage to a foreign nation.”
Prosecutors said that between 1997 and 2016, Ho enlisted U.S. nuclear consultants to give technical assistance on China General Nuclear’s small modular reactor program, its advanced fuel-assembly program, its fixed in-core detector system, and its nuclear reactor-related computer codes. Such assistance required approval of the U.S. Department of Energy.
In his plea agreement, Ho admitted he knew he needed such approval because he had tried and failed to obtain it.
Ho’s attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, declined to comment.
In arguing unsuccessfully for bail, Zeidenberg filed court documents that included summaries of interviews by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents with consultants enlisted by Ho. Those documents showed China General Nuclear pressed consultants for years to hand over secret technologies and documents they weren’t supposed to disclose -- and in some cases it got them.
One of the documents recounted an FBI conversation with Ching Ning Guey, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to help Beijing obtain restricted nuclear technology -- the same charge faced by Ho and the company. Guey is cooperating with U.S. investigators in the Ho case, according to court records.
The case is U.S. v. Ho, 16-cr-46, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee (Knoxville).