- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Two devices that a Fijian man tried to buy in the U.S. to sell to China were designed to be used in space, military and missile applications, a federal prosecutor told a jury during opening statements Monday at the start of the man’s trial.

Because the devices were classified as “defense articles,” they could not be exported from the U.S. without a license from the State Department under the Arms Export Control Act, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods said.

The restrictions, he said, are “designed to ensure that U.S. technologies and defense items remain in safe hands.”

The defendant, William Ali, arranged to purchase them from a Homeland Security undercover agent at a hotel in Seattle where he was arrested in April despite warnings that buying certain accelerometers and gyroscopes in the U.S. to sell to China violated federal law, Woods said. Ali lived in New Zealand before his arrest.

“This trial will show that the defendant knew perfectly well that what he was doing was illegal,” Woods said.

Ali’s lawyer, John Crowley, did not make an opening statement but said in court records that his client was a victim of entrapment because the federal agent induced Ali to commit a crime.

The agent “first suggested the criminal activity of an illegal export” and Ali was “extremely reluctant to participate in the offense only to be persuaded to do so by Homeland Security Investigations,” Crowley said.

Ali is an engineer who has worked for Air Fiji and Air New Zealand, court records said. He also started a small company called Aircraft Mechanics and Logistics that sells aircraft parts and had a customer in China who was interested in acquiring accelerometers, which used to measure how fast something is accelerating or slowing down.

Although the device was used in aircraft, satellites and missile systems, “Mr. Ali has no knowledge of the utility of that part outside of its application to commercial aircraft and in particular the Chinese built Y-12” turboprop aircraft, Crowley said.

After Ali sent emails to the company that makes the device seeking information about exporting them, the company alerted the Counter-Proliferation Investigations agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Special Agent Christy Clerf testified.

The agency tries “to prevent foreign advisories from acquiring sensitive weapons technology” and sent an undercover agent to determine if Ali knew that exporting the devices was illegal, and to find out where he planned to sell them, Clerf said.

The agent warned Ali in emails that his plans violated U.S. law, but Ali “laughed and joked” that he hoped his emails were not intercepted, Clerk testified.

Ali flew to the U.S. in April to meet the agent, who he thought was a broker, and was arrested.

His trial is expected to last two or three days.

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