Federal investigators have launched an investigation into whether US companies linked to a Chinese billionaire illegally avoided punitive import tariffs on Chinese aluminum.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Homeland Security agents have questioned former employees of companies associated with Liu Zhongtian, the founder and chairman of aluminum giant China Zhongwang Holdings Ltd.
Homeland Security has been coordinating with the US Department of Justice on the probe, the report said.
Agents are investigating whether the companies committed criminal or civil violations that could include smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud, they said.
In September, the Journal reported that the US Commerce Department was investigating whether Aluminum Shapes LLC, a New Jersey company, imported pallets to remelt as a way to avoid tariffs. It was part of a broader probe into Liu’s activities.
The Commerce Department said preliminary findings would be released in coming weeks.
Aluminum Shapes last month denied that the pallets were used as raw material for its plant.
Homeland Security’s investigation, which is in its early stages, is focusing on whether aluminum products that Zhongwang produced in China—and which are subject to US tariffs as high as 374.15 percent—were brought into the US in the form of shipping pallets at much lower tariff rates, people familiar with the matter said.
A China Zhongwang spokeswoman said the company has not been contacted by US authorities about an investigation and that neither Zhongwang nor Liu has ties to Aluminum Shapes.
Zhongwang said it has exported aluminum pallets to the US and that it follows all established trade laws.
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