ZTE may have violated US sanctions building Venezuelan surveillance

Chinese telecoms vendor ZTE may be put back on the US’ naughty list after seemingly violating sanctions against Venezuela.

ZTE was forced to suspend its operations earlier this year following a ban on purchasing US-made products vital to its business for trading with Iran and North Korea against US sanctions, which it estimates cost around $1bn.

The firm was granted a reprieve from the US ban in return for agreeing to reshuffle its board members, pay a $1.4bn fine, and install a compliance oversight board selected by US officials.

Two senior US lawmakers, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, have warned key members of President Donald Trump's cabinet that ZTE’s business in Venezuela may have violated the terms of the settlement agreement.

Venezuela has built a population database which enables the government to monitor its citizens through video surveillance and other measures. The system was built using components from Dell Technologies in the US, which ZTE has ties with.

"ZTE installed data storage units built by Dell Technologies," the senators wrote in a letter. "Though Dell's transaction appears to have been with ZTE in China, we are concerned that ZTE may have violated US export controls by misidentifying the end-user or purpose of the end use."

"The Venezuelan government hired ZTE to build a database and develop a mobile payment system for a smart ID card," the letter continued. "In developing the database for this ID card, ZTE reportedly embedded its employees in a unit of Venezuela's state telecommunications firm, CANTV — the president of which is subject to US sanctions."

Rubio and Van Hollen have been vocal opponents to ZTE’s operations in the US and retaining sanctions on the firm.

One co-sponsored legislation introduced in September called the ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight (ZERO) Act would reinstate the crippling ban preventing the company from purchasing US components if the firm is found to have violated its settlement terms.

Venezuela’s financial sector is subject to its own US sanctions which the State Department claims is to protect the US from “complicity in Venezuela's corruption and in the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people."

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