Chinese man sentenced to three years for trying to export carbon fiber

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Chinese man who pleaded guilty to U.S. charges of illegally trying to export to China high-grade carbon fiber used primarily in aerospace and military applications was sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday.

The sentence imposed on Fuyi Sun by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, in Manhattan federal court, was less than the 46 months called for by federal guidelines. Hellerstein said he was taking into account Sun’s mental health conditions, which include bipolar disorder.

Sun’s attorneys had said in a court filing that Sun was manipulated into trying to export the carbon fiber by his older brother. Amy Gallicchio, one of the attorneys, declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing.

Sun, 53, has already spent 16 months in jail, which will count toward the three-year sentence. Gallicchio had argued at the hearing that he should be sentenced to time served, saying his mental health treatment while in U.S. custody had not been adequate.

“I would like to be able to return to China to resume my medical treatment so I can recover from my mental conditions,” Sun said through an interpreter before being sentenced.

Sun was arrested in April 2016 after he traveled to the United States to obtain M60 carbon fiber, which is used in military drone aircraft, from people working as undercover U.S. law enforcement agents, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty in April 2017.

Sun began trying to acquire the carbon fiber around 2011, and repeatedly told undercover agents the fiber he wanted would go to the Chinese military with which he said he had a close relationship, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Sun asked the undercover agents about buying about 450 kilograms (992 lbs) of carbon fiber for more than $62,000. When he met the agents in New York last April, they say, Sun agreed to pay $25,000 for carbon fiber.

Sun took steps to conceal the purchase from U.S. authorities, including asking the undercover agents to use “banana” as a code word for “carbon fiber” and falsifying customs documents, prosecutors said.

His arrest underlined tensions between the United States and China over intellectual property rights. The FBI has said cases of economic espionage rose 53 percent in 2015, the majority of which involved Chinese nationals.

Editing by Alistair Bell