Chinese firm disguised aluminum as pallets to dodge $1.8B in tariffs, feds say

A Chinese metal company and its former president were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for allegedly dodging $1.8 billion in U.S. tariffs by importing large amounts of aluminum disguised as pallets not subject to the levies, prosecutors announced yesterday.

The indictment unsealed late Tuesday accused China Zhongwang Holdings Limited, described as Asia’s largest aluminum company; former president/chairman Zhongtian Liu; and several other individuals and companies of orchestrating the scheme to avoid paying “anti-dumping and countervailing duties” on aluminum imported into the United States.

Prosecutors contend the company disguised the aluminum as pallets, which are not subject to tariffs, and shipped it to the U.S. through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The roughly 2.2 million pallets were stored in Southern California warehouses then “sold” in bogus transactions to companies controlled by Liu, prosecutors said.

The bogus sales were used to artificially inflate the value of China Zhongwang by overstating its volume of sales and exports, claiming the material was being sold to independent third parties when it was actually being stockpiled by Liu-controlled companies, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In a separate case filed Tuesday, Liu associate Po-Chi Eric Shen, 41, of Los Angeles, was charged with failing to report more than $9 million in taxable income he received in 2015 to the IRS. Shen has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the continuing investigation into the alleged scheme, prosecutors said.

The indictment against Ziu and others charges the defendants with conspiracy, nine counts of wire fraud and seven counts of passing false and fraudulent papers through a customhouse. Most of the defendants were also charged with money laundering.

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