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(Reuters) - A Chinese citizen pleaded guilty on Friday to charges of trying to illegally export to China high-grade carbon fibre used primarily in aerospace and military applications, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
Fuyi Sun, 53, who pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York federal court, admitted he tried to procure the carbon fibre for the Chinese military, the statement said. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison when sentenced on July 26, it said.
A lawyer for Sun could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sun was arrested last April after he travelled to obtain M60 carbon fibre, which is used in military drone aircraft, from people working as undercover U.S. law enforcement agents, prosecutors said.
Sun began trying to acquire the carbon fibre around 2011, prosecutors said. He repeatedly told the agents the fibre he wanted would go to the Chinese military, with which he said he had a close relationship, according to charges filed against him.
Prosecutors say Sun asked the undercover agents about buying about 450 kilograms of carbon fibre 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 fibre.
He took steps to conceal the purchase from U.S. authorities, including asking the undercover agents to use "banana" as a code word for "carbon fibre" and falsifying customs documents.
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.
Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Additional reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh and Bill Trott