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1 Aug, 2019 09:01

Chinese metal mogul indicted in US for fraud & tax evasion

Chinese metal mogul indicted in US for fraud & tax evasion

A Chinese billionaire has been indicted by a US grand jury. He is accused of smuggling huge amounts of aluminum into the United States without paying customs duties.

Liu Zhongtian allegedly evaded some $1.8 billion in tariff payments to the United States with an elaborate scheme he executed through metals giant Zhongwang Holdings Ltd, where he served as chairman and president.

According to federal prosecutors, the company started the scheme back in 2008, foisting the metal into the US as purported aluminum pallets. The merchandise in reality was simply aluminum profiles in disguise, “tack-welded” together to appear as functional “pallets” in order to be taken for finished goods, which are not subject to customs duties.

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This indictment outlines the unscrupulous and anti-competitive practices of a corrupt businessman who defrauded the United States out of $1.8 billion in tariffs due on Chinese imports,” prosecutor Nick Hanna said, as cited by NDTV.

Prosecutors said Liu would stockpile the aluminum at four warehouses in the Los Angeles area, and organize its bogus sales to firms also under his control. This was done in order to “artificially inflate the value of [his] publicly traded company” and make it appear more valuable on the market, which among other things put potential investors at risk.

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In reality, there were no customers for the 2.2 million pallets imported by the Liu-controlled companies between 2011 and 2014, and no pallets were ever sold,” Hanna noted. She added that the demand for the pallets was such that “defendants would direct that aluminum melting facilities be built and acquired to be used to reconfigure the aluminum imported as pallets into a form with commercial value.

Zhongwang Holdings has previously described the smuggling allegations as “misleading” and “without any factual basis.

The company would like to clarify that the group in its business operation has always strictly abided by the laws and regulations of [China] and destination countries of its exported products, and has developed overseas markets under the principle of fair and orderly competition,” Zhongwang Holdings said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Thursday.

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Meanwhile, its shares fell as much as 20.9 percent to its lowest since January 2016. According to the WSJ, an arrest warrant has been issued for Liu on Wednesday. Along with several other defendants, he faces charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Most of these carry a maximum 20-year prison term, while if served consecutively carry a maximum 465-year term.

Prosecutors state the case is one of the largest tariff-related cases ever handled by the Justice Department. The current indictment, reached back in May, was not unsealed until this week, coinciding with the reopening of trade talks between US and China on Tuesday.

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