Nokia admits there may still be some Alcatel Lucent skeletons in the closet

Finnish kit vendor Nokia has filed its annual report with the SEC and in it flagged up some legacy issues from Alcatel Lucent that may still be a problem.

In the lengthy ‘risk factors’ section, Nokia indicates that, even years after it completed the acquisition of Alcatel Lucent, it’s still digging up stuff that may present some kind of threat to the company. Here’s the relevant passage in full.

“During the course of the ongoing integration process, we have been made aware of certain practices relating to compliance issues at the former Alcatel Lucent business that have raised concerns. We have initiated an internal investigation and voluntarily reported the matter to the relevant regulatory authorities, with whom we are cooperating with a view to resolving the matter. The resolution of this matter could result in potential criminal or civil penalties, including the possibility of monetary fines, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, brand, reputation or financial position.”

Asked for further comment on the matter Nokia just stressed that “although this investigation is in a relatively early stage, out of an abundance of caution and in the spirit of transparency, Nokia has contacted the relevant regulatory authorities regarding this review.” There’s no reason not to take that statement at face value at this stage, but while the extent of the material effect this could have on Nokia remains uncapped it will surely remain a significant concern.

Iran is also addressed in the risks section, with Nokia noting the dilemma that, while Europe is relaxing its sanctions against the country, the US is moving in the other direction and ramping them up. “As a European company it will be quite challenging to reconcile the opposing foreign policy regimes of the US and the EU,” it laments.

Since the US has shown an unlimited capacity for vindictiveness towards companies that do business with Iran Nokia has sensible decided not to do any more business there for the time being. “Although we evaluate our business activities on an ongoing basis, we currently do not intend to accept any new business in Iran in 2019 and intend to only complete existing contractual obligations in Iran in compliance with applicable economic sanctions and other trade-related laws,” said the filing.

Lastly the risks section also mentions HMD Global, which licenses the Nokia brand to put on its smartphones. It doesn’t make reference to any specific case but notes “Nokia has limitations in its ability to influence HMD Global in its business and other operations, exposing us to potential adverse effects from the use of the Nokia brand by HMD Global or other adverse development encountered by HMD Global that become attributable to Nokia through association and HMD Global being a licensee of the Nokia brand.” How timely.

US charges Huawei with a litany of crimes

The US Department of Justice has hit Chinese telecoms vendor Huawei with a 23-count indictment, covering allegations ranging from bank fraud to theft of trade secrets.

This dramatic move is the culmination of a process that was publicly initiated when Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the behest of the US in early December 2018. It was soon revealed that the reason for the arrest was suspected fraud related to attempts to conceal business being done with Iranian companies in violation of US trade sanctions.

The Iran stuff constitutes the majority of the charges filed in New York against Huawei, Meng and its alleged unofficial Iranian affiliate company Skycom. Specifically they are charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

In addition Huawei and Skycom are accused of violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and conspiracy to violate IEEPA, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. On top of that Huawei and Huawei USA are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice related to the grand jury investigation in the Eastern District of New York.

It seems a bit redundant to come up with a separate charge of conspiracy to do the crime you’re also accusing someone of doing, but there you go. Maybe conspiracy is the consolation prize if you fail to make the main charge stick.

Bank fraud is fairly self-explanatory; it concerns attempts to commit fraud to a bank. Wire fraud seems to be an archaic way of describing fraud committed by electronic means. The IEEPA is the process through which the US was able to impose the trade sanctions on Iran. Money laundering concerns financial transaction with proceeds that were generated from certain criminal activities, among which some or all of the above presumably are.

But that’s not all. In a separate rap sheet the DoJ announced ten additional charges filed against Huawei Device Co and Huawei Device Co USA. They consist of theft of trade secrets conspiracy, attempted theft of trade secrets, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice.

According to the accusation Huawei started trying to steal information about a T-Mobile US phone-testing robot called ‘Tappy’ in 2012. This allegedly included violation of NDAs,. Taking illicit photos of it and even nicking bits of it so they could do a bit of good old fashioned reverse engineering back in China. Apparently TMUS caught them in the act and Huawei claimed it was down to ‘rogue actors’ rather than a corporate thing. The US reckons it has evidence to the contrary.

“As charged in the indictment, Huawei and its Chief Financial Officer broke U.S. law and have engaged in a fraudulent financial scheme that is detrimental to the security of the United States,” said Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “They willfully conducted millions of dollars in transactions that were in direct violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and such behaviour will not be tolerated.”

“The charges unsealed today clearly allege that Huawei intentionally conspired to steal the intellectual property of an American company in an attempt to undermine the free and fair global marketplace,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “To the detriment of American ingenuity, Huawei continually disregarded the laws of the United States in the hopes of gaining an unfair economic advantage.”

A bunch more officials got to make statements on how out of order Huawei has been, which you can see in the video below. Huawei, unsurprisingly, doesn’t see things in quite the same way. It gave Telecoms.com the following statement.

“We are disappointed to learn of the charges brought against the company today. After Ms. Meng’s arrest, the company sought an opportunity to discuss the Eastern District of New York investigation with the Justice Department, but the request was rejected without explanation.

“The allegations in the Western District of Washington trade secret indictment were already the subject of a civil suit that was settled by the parties after a Seattle jury found neither damages nor wilful and malicious conduct on the trade secret claim.

“The company denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations of U.S. law set forth in each of the indictments, is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng, and believes the U.S. courts will ultimately reach the same conclusion.”

That remains to be seen, but at least the process is likely to be public and transparent. The Chinese state reckons this is just an extension of US President Trump’s trade war with China. Uncharacteristically the Donald has yet to tweet on the matter but even if he does it will presumably be to echo the DoJ position. He is apparently meeting Chinese trade officials tomorrow, so that should be an interesting chat.

The US isn’t playing around here. By charging Huawei with most known crimes short of cattle rustling it’s demonstrating an unflinching determination to defend itself regardless of (or perhaps encouraged by) the political implications. It’s not yet clear what the consequences of guilty verdicts would be but the US is seeking Meng’s extradition and she would presumably do some time.

ZTE nearly got driven out of business by the US for violating its Iranian trade sanctions. It follows therefore that the US would apply a similar level of punishment to Huawei if it found it guilty of committing the same acts. Huawei is a much bigger company and is working hard to minimize its reliance on US suppliers, but it would surely at least be severely diminished by such an outcome.

 

Our supply chain won’t tread the ZTE path – Huawei CEO

One of the biggest stories of the year, and one of the major catalysts of the US/China trade war, was ZTE’s brush with extinction, but Huawei thinks it’s robust enough to withstand the US economic dirty-bomb.

During the Summer, ZTE was caught violating US trade sanctions with Iran and subsequently was banned from using any US products or IP within its supply chain. The move from the US almost destroyed ZTE, with the company ceasing operations for a couple of weeks, but Huawei’s Rotating CEO doesn’t think his firm would be under the same risk.

“We all know the ICT industry highly depends on a global supply chain,” said Hu. “And Huawei is no exception. Today we have 13,000 suppliers in our supply chain. Companies coming from Japan, US, Europe, China and many other countries in the regions. Take this year for example, our annual procurement spend would be 70 billion dollars.”

With CFO Meng Wanzhou currently on bail in Canada, Huawei is facing questions it probably doesn’t want to answer. The connection with Skycom looks to be much closer than some US financial institutions were led to believe, suggesting Huawei has been violating US trade sanctions with Iran. Should the US take the same action as it did with ZTE earlier in the year, Huawei could face the same ban on US exports.

The issue with ZTE was its dependence on the US for its supply chain. Huawei will also have the US feature prominently through its own supply chain, but Hu is confident it would stand up to any potential punishment dished out by the US.

“We take a diversified supply strategy,” said Hu. “That means we have a multi-sourcing strategy.

“We look at multiple choices in terms of technology solutions, and we also have multi-location supply networks. At the same time, since we’re working together with hundreds of telecom operators in the world, and also, we are serving a significant number of enterprise customers, so we look at the full lifecycle support that is needed and build up our stock of spare parts and components to ensure support across the product lifecycle.”

The company is also working to produce its own alternatives to some technologies which might not be able to be replicated elsewhere. A prime example of this is the Android mobile operating system.

As it stands, should the US impose a ban on Huawei its smartphones and wearable devices would be relegated to the role of doorstop. With this in mind, Huawei is attempting to create its own mobile operating system. It will probably be no-where as good as what the Android OS can offer, others such as Samsung have tried and failed, but it is certainly better than nothing.

Being banned from using US components and IP would certainly be a negative for Huawei, and it certainly isn’t a scenario which is out of the question, but Huawei seems to be in a better position than the suspect ZTE.

Huawei CFO charged with hiding connection to Skycom, which worked with Iran

The bail hearing for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou has revealed she is charged with concealing ties between her company and another that violated US trade sanctions.

Meng was arrested last week in Canada and had her bail hearing at the end of the week. In it, according to multiple reports, she committed fraud when she told US banks in 2013 that Huawei had no connection to Hong Kong firm Skycom, which was apparently doing business with Iranian telecoms companies. The suggestion is that Skycom was used to disguise Huawei’s own violations of US trade sanctions, which is what caused ZTE so much grief earlier this year.

“Ms. Meng personally represented to those banks that Skycom and Huawei were separate when in fact they were not separate,” said Crown Counsel John Gibb-Carsley. “Skycom was Huawei.” Evidence for this is reportedly contained in a PowerPoint presentation from that time and it looks like this manoeuvre may be what was referred to in ZTE’s F7 memo.

In a bid to get bail Meng’s lawyers that she’s not a flight risk because she wouldn’t want to embarrass her father, the founder of Huawei, as well as the company itself and the whole country. She also apparently has a couple of houses in Vancouver, which she could stay in. Counter-arguments have focused on how much cash she has, meaning she could afford to leg it.

The original scoop on Skycom seems to have come from Reuters, which reported back in January 2013: ‘Huawei CFO linked to firm that offered HP gear to Iran’. The reason this case has escalated to an arrest isn’t the business Huawei may or may not have done with Iranian companies, but the allegations of deliberately misleading US banks – hence committing fraud.