Trial Begins for Ex-Space Agency Engineer Accused of Working With Sanctioned Chinese Company

by EditorK
Trial Begins for Ex-Space Agency Engineer Accused of Working With Sanctioned Chinese Company

The RCMP accuses Wanping Zheng of using his status as a Canadian Space Agency engineer to negotiate agreements for the installation of satellite station facilities in Iceland on behalf of a Chinese aerospace company. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Andrew Chen
The trial is now underway for Wanping Zheng, a former engineer at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who faces charges of breach of trust for allegedly working on behalf of a Chinese space company outside of his duties.

Mr. Zheng was charged on Dec. 7, 2021, following an RCMP investigation into his activities extracurricular to his CSA responsibilities. He is accused of leveraging his position as a CSA engineer to negotiate agreements for the installation of satellite station facilities in Iceland on behalf of Spacety China, officially known as the Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute.

After his arrest in 2021, Mr. Zheng reportedly defended his actions, saying his intention was to facilitate connections between two Canadian companies and Spacety China, as reported by Le Journal de Montréal.

On the opening day of his trial on Sept. 22, Crown prosecutor Marc Cigana presented a different perspective, contending that Mr. Zheng’s intention was to show preference to the Chinese company.

It was Mr. Zheng who initiated contact with the Canadian companies, offering them services through the Chinese company, according to Le Journal de Montréal. When Ewan Reid, founder and CEO of Mission Control Space Services Inc., opted not to collaborate with Spacety China, Mr. Zheng persisted to the extent that Mr. Cigana referred to it as “harassment” in his statements at the Longueuil courthouse in Quebec.

The defendant allegedly sought to establish direct connections with the Icelandic government in order for Spacety to construct a ground station in Iceland. By reaching out to Mr. Reid, the brother of the Nordic country’s first lady, Eliza Reid, he asserted the project would be beneficial for Iceland.

“Is it really in Canada’s public interest for Spacety to have a ground station in Iceland?” Mr. Cigana asked.

He also argued that Mr. Zheng sought to advance the interests of Spacety by recommending it to another Canadian company under the pretext the Chinese firm could provide them with products at lower prices compared to local competitors.

Notably, several of these interactions with the Canadian companies occurred during Mr. Zheng’s six-month unpaid leave. Reports indicate he continued his association with the Chinese company even after he resumed employment, according to Le Journal de Montréal. However, Mr. Zheng hasn’t declared these activities to the CSA, despite his employer requiring that he disclose all his contacts outside Canada, particularly those with China.

Spacety China, an aerospace firm based in China’s Hunan Province, was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for aiding Russia in its war with Ukraine. In a press release issued in January, the Treasury Department said that the sanction was applied to Spacety China because the company had provided synthetic aperture radar satellite imagery to a Russian technology firm known as Terra Tech. The images were allegedly used to assist the Wagner Group in conducting “combat operations in Ukraine.”

Mr. Zheng reportedly told the police after his arrest that he had not received any payment from Spacety during the time he offered his service. However, Mr. Cigana found this explanation highly improbable, saying, “It is not logical. No one volunteers, takes a day off to help a space company. We volunteer for a food bank, not for a space company.”

Mr. Zheng, who was a resident of the Montreal suburb of Brossard, was arrested on Dec. 7, 2021, at age 61.

According to a previous report by The Canadian Press, the charge sheet filed at the Longueuil courthouse indicated that Mr. Zheng’s alleged criminal activities occurred between July 1, 2018, and May 30, 2019. These activities were said to have taken place at various locations, including the CSA headquarters in Brossard and St−Hubert, as well as in Toronto, Ottawa, and other parts of Ontario and Quebec.

Mr. Zheng resigned from the CSA in September 2019. One month later, he secured employment at Spacety and eventually took on the position of CEO for the European division located in Luxembourg.

His LinkedIn profile, where he goes by the name James Zheng, states that he had been involved in numerous recent Canadian space missions as a technical expert or manager. These missions include the International Space Station (ISS), Radarsat 2, SciSat, MOST, Cassiope, NEOSSAT, M3MSat, and OSIRIS-Rex.


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