selling an unmanned aerial vehicle on eBay — perhaps not as illegal as you’d think

A couple of days ago I found this and posted it on Facebook, because, LOL! arms trafficking on eBay!

According to the indictment, [defendant Henson] Chua knowingly and willfully caused the temporary import into the United States of an item designated as a defense article on the U.S. Munitions List, namely an RQ-11B “Raven” Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ( UAV ), and aided and abetted the attempted export from the United States of the same item, without having first obtained from the U.S. Department of State a license or written authorization.

But it turns out that maybe Chua was actually on the right side of the law. ExportLawBlog explains:

It’s important to understand that only parts were involved because a permanent import of these parts is not illegal. Aircraft and drone parts are not listed on the United States Munitions Import List. They are, however, listed in Category VIII(h) of the United States Munitions List, which means they require a State Department license for temporary (as opposed to permanent) imports, i.e., imports which will be followed by an export back out of the United States. As you will see, this distinction between legal permanent imports and illegal temporary imports opens up some major holes in the government’s case….

The defendant correctly believed that he could ship the parts to the United States until the agents said that they were going to re-export the items to Russia. At that point, Chua and his seller consulted lawyers and told the undercovers they would need State Department licenses to ship the parts. When the agents declined to get licenses, Chua determined, apparently in consultation with legal counsel, that the items could only be shipped without a license if the agents agreed not to export them from the United States. Granted the advice was a bit flawed because the agreement no to re-export was limited to countries involved in developing WMD or to parties on the Department of Commerce’s Denied Parties List. But there is not a shred of evidence that Mr. Chua didn’t believe that this advice was a correct statement of U.S. law. Chua may be liable for civil penalties under the Arms Export Control Act but criminal penalties can’t be imposed without proving he knew he was relying on bad legal advice.

I’m no lawyer, but this sounds like overly-aggressive law enforcement to me. Still, the important thing to note is that apparently, under some circumstances, you can sell weapons parts on eBay!

(h/t Richard W)

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