Trial of Chinese-American engineer accused of defense exports nears close

Chinese-born engineer Chi Mak worked hard during his two decades in the United States and was remarkable only for his thrift: he lived in a small home despite a six-figure salary and once switched hotels to save $2.

The government, however, said Mak's unassuming ways were part of a long-running conspiracy to export U.S. defense technologies to China with the help of his brother, wife and other family members.

Authorities believe Mak, a naturalized U.S. citizen, took thousands of pages of documents from his employer, Power Paragon of Anaheim, and gave them to his brother, who passed them along to Chinese authorities for years.

A jury is expected to get the case Monday after closing arguments. The six-week trial featured testimony from a parade of FBI agents, U.S. Navy officials, encryption and espionage experts and the 66-year-old engineer himself.

If convicted, Mak could get more than 50 years in prison.

Mak was arrested in 2005 in Los Angeles after FBI agents stopped his brother and sister-in-law as they boarded a flight to Hong Kong. Investigators said they found three encrypted CDs in their luggage containing documents on a submarine propulsion system, a solid-state power switch for ships and a PowerPoint presentation on the future of power electronics.

Mak has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to export defense material to China, failure to register as a foreign agent, attempted and actual export of defense articles, and making false statements. His wife, brother and other relatives also have been indicted.

Key to the trial was the government's allegation that Mak confessed to the conspiracy - and even named his so-called "handler" and specific restricted documents - during an untaped jailhouse interview two days after his arrest.

Mak testified he never confessed during that interview, but admitted on cross-examination that he lied repeatedly in an earlier taped interview the night he was arrested. He also acknowledged he lied on U.S. immigration forms years before and in an application for a secret government clearance.

Mak's attorneys focused on the propulsion system documents found in his brother's luggage at Los Angeles International Airport. Mak said he believed he was doing nothing wrong by giving the documents to his brother to take out of the country because they were papers that had been presented previously at international conferences.

The government, however, alleged the documents were export-controlled and could not fall into foreign hands.

Trials for Mak's brother and other family members begin later this month.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova