- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - A Taiwanese businessman pleaded guilty Friday to attempting to bypass bans on supplying weapons machinery to North Korea, agreeing to cooperate with investigators in hopes of receiving a shorter prison term.

Hsien Tai Tsai, 69, stood in a federal courtroom in Chicago with his legs shackled and spoke through a Chinese interpreter as he changed his plea to guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate U.S. law meant to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Among the items Tsai sought to purchase from an unnamed Illinois company and export was a center-hole grinder, a devise used in drilling smooth, precise holes into metal, Tsai’s 24-page plea agreement says.

The conspiracy count carries a maximum five-year prison term, though defense attorney Steven Shobat said he hopes Tsai gets no more than 16 months; prosecutors want a sentence of around 2 1/2 years. Judge Charles Norgle Sr. didn’t immediately set a sentencing date.

Tsai’s pledge to cooperate means he may have to testify at his son’s trial, Shobat said. Yueh-Hsun Tsai, 37, was arrested in the same case in May 2013 at his suburban Chicago home. He has pleaded not guilty.

The father was arrested in the same month while vacationing in Estonia, which then extradited Tsai.

In filings before Tsai chose to plead guilty, the defense blamed the allegations on “the application of a convoluted and intricate regulatory scheme to … benign and banal interactions between father and son having nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction.”

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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