Numerous emails obtained by United States prosecutors that are attached to a newly unsealed indictment against Huawei, its CFO, and two of its subsidiaries seemingly confirm the Chinese company’s corporate espionage plans and specifically its intent to steal valuable intellectual property from T-Mobile.
Spying level: The Naked Gun
Among the central pieces of evidence backing the 13-count indictment are internal emails from 2012 and 2013 that saw several employees of the Chinese firm openly discuss trade secret theft and even repeatedly reference their inability to conduct it in a proper manner. The communication in question occasionally reads like a deleted scene from Johnny English or Austin Powers, with Huawei’s plants at T-Mobile being caught more often than not.
The emails are understood to be new evidence because it’s otherwise hard to see how T-Mobile failed to prove Huawei misappropriated its trade secrets as part of a civil case concluded in 2017 with what’s technically a win, albeit one that saw it receive $4.5 million based on contract violations that stemmed from the theft, not half a billion dollars T-Mobile originally sought for intellectual property theft.
About five years ago, Huawei tasked several U.S.-based spies with helping it copy Tappy, T-Mobile’s robot designed for testing user experiences of touchscreen-equipped devices; mostly smartphones. The firm first wanted to outright buy or license the device but was refused, with T-Mobile saying it has no intention of making it available in that capacity to any entity.
Huawei’s U.S. plants grew desperate over time and even resorted to asking questions about Tappy’s specifications and components, thus telegraphing their intent to T-Mobile seeing how they had little reasons to inquire about such matters for any legitimate purposes.
The newly unsealed emails confirm Huawei’s HQ in Shenzen was actively working on copying Tappy and was quite unhappy with the spies’ results. What starts as a befuddled refusal turns into what’s essentially a running joke as the emails contain about a dozen instances wherein the spies had to tell the HQ they simply cannot ask any more questions from T-Mobile officials directly as they’re already heavily suspected of foul play and have been caught red-handed on numerous occasions.
“Once again, we CAN’T ask TMO any questions about the robot. TMO is VERY angry the questions that we asked,” one of the emails from early 2013 reads. R&D officials from China still repeated their demand on two more occasions following that exchange before they agreed to send one of their engineers to observe the robot personally under a false pretense of testing.
The official in question, aided by one of Huawei’s U.S. plants, infiltrated T-Mobile’s testing lab on several occasions. In response, all Huawei employees bar one had T-Mobile’s testing facility clearances revoked and the ordeal eventually led to the aforementioned lawsuit settled in 2017.
No more fun and crimes
U.S. prosecutors are yet to reveal any individual names accused of being complicit in the theft and it’s presently unclear whether they intend to do so seeing how they aren’t likely to apprehend them and having China extradite them is essentially impossible.
The same indictment also contains criminal charges against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou that’s presently battling her extradition in Canada, with the DOJ alleging she was personally involved in fraud stemming from an illegal banking scheme designed as part of a conspiracy to violate U.S. trade embargoes imposed on Iran. The 46-year-old is consequently facing up to 30 years in prison.
As Huawei’s legal issues with the U.S. and American companies continue to pile up and Washington-Beijing relations are growing tenser by the day for that and many other reasons, the Shenzen-based firm can safely bury any stateside ambitions it previously harbored.