WASHINGTON - A Canadian executive has been indicted on a charge of making a false statement about the transfer to China of technical details of a U.S. Navy undersea submarine rescue vehicle in an alleged attempt to sell versions to the Chinese Navy.
In a one-count indictment unsealed June 7, U.S. prosecutors in Washington, D.C., contend that Glen Omer Viau, a Canadian citizen, "intended to and did misrepresent and conceal . . . the true nature and extent of the transfer" of Navy data for the undersea docking vessel from American export officials.
In a Jan. 8 indictment, prosecutors with the national security section of the U.S. attorney's office of the District allege that Viau's company transferred data related to the Navy's Pressurized Rescue Module, a remotely operated rescue vehicle capable of docking with a sunken sub 2,000 feet underwater and carrying up to 18 people.
The Navy's "Falcon" rescue module is tethered to a surface ship and capable of round-the-clock operations, replacing a battery-powered predecessor dramatized in such films as "The Hunt for Red October,'' a 1990 movie based on Tom Clancy's fictional bestseller about a rogue Soviet submarine.
Viau's employer was not named in the indictment, but charging details about the company's location, history, government defense work and Viau's online profiles show he worked with OceanWorks International of Vancouver as its chief operating officer before 2011 and after October 2016 as president.
Prosecutors allege that a Beijing company, which is not named in the court files, purchased OceanWorks, including its submarine rescue technology in September 2016 using front companies that made it appear the deal involved a solely Canadian firm.
OceanWorks, which is no longer operational, was for a time based in Houston and helped develop and modify a U.S. Navy submarine rescue system that has been used since about 2008, as well other undersea technology with commercial applications.
In a June 7 court order unsealing the indictment, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Washington said both sides reported a trial will likely be required, an indication Viau has entered a not guilty plea.
Viau, who is about 50, is released on personal recognizance and permitted to travel in Canada and Europe. Few other details are available on the court docket, and the sides are due back in court June 24.
"Glen Viau is a Canadian businessman who has enjoyed a distinguished career in the field of subsea technology for nearly three decades. We look forward to defending him against this allegation and restoring his good name," said his defense attorney, Preston Burton.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu said the office declined to comment.
In the 18-page indictment, U.S. authorities allege that after the sale of OceanWorks, Viau assured the U.S. Navy that the company would operate as an independent firm and abide by American export controls, which require a license for transfer of its technology.
Prosecutors contend Viau was trying to win U.S. defense work when he withheld that the Beijing company allegedly was using transferred data in a pitch to sell a version of the module for up to $20 million apiece to the naval warfare branch of the People's Liberation Army, or PLA Navy.
The U.S. Navy terminated OceanWorks contracts in March 2017, and Canada's foreign investment review agency in May 2017 ordered the Chinese company to divest its OceanWorks assets and barred it from accessing OceanWorks's trade secrets, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, only then did Viau make voluntary self-disclosures about the unauthorized export of a hard drive containing controlled Navy technical data as partof the company's sale, while allegedly omitting significant details about his role to the U.S. Commerce Department's export enforcement office.
This article was written by Spencer S. Hsu, a reporter for The Washington Post.