A US Judge has ruled that Chinese telecommunications company ZTE’s probation can end after five years of supervision.

This ruling marks the end of a complex journey for ZTE, the world’s fourth-largest maker of telecoms equipment, after a settlement in which the company agreed to pay $900 million and to a probation period.

The probation was imposed in 2017 after the company pled guilty to illegally shipping US technology to Iran. From that point on, the company was policed by court-appointed monitor James Stanton.

Dallas Judge Ed Kinkeade agreed to the end of probation on March 22, despite potential violations alleged against the company. The favourable ruling has seen ZTE shares soaring, with increases in Hong Kong reaching 27 percent and Shenzhen rising 10 percent. ZTE remains subject to a compliance monitor based in Washington for a further six years.

The ruling is somewhat unexpected after allegations earlier this month that the company is connected to a separate visa-fraud case, brought by the Justice Department against a former ZTE researcher. The allegations do not currently label ZTE as a defendant.

Despite this alleged violation, the Judge recognized that the company had made some improvements in its compliance practices, though describing the dedication to said improvements as happening ‘sometimes’.

Last October James Stanton, the court-appointed monitor for ZTE, sought to extend his term beyond the set end of the probation period. In the trial last week, the Judge also acknowledged that ZTE had made private complaints about Stanton’s conduct in monitoring the company, though he defended the monitors work.

ZTE claimed after the ruling that “The company has full confidence in the effective operation and continuous improvement of the compliance management system.”

While things may be looking up for the Chinese telecoms company, the visa-fraud case against the ZTE researcher is still in progress in Atlanta, Georgia.

The researcher involved was bringing Chinese nationals to the US to work for ZTE while possessing visas that did not permit said work. However the company is claiming that the Georgia Institute of Technology, which the research was conducted alongside, were responsible for the visa paperwork and any inaccuracies.

In the probation ruling, Judge Kinkeade stated that he believed ZTE had indeed played a role in the alleged visa-fraud scheme, and dubbed the allegations against Georgia Tech as mere ‘finger pointing’. Further punishment was not sought at the time, as ZTE has already had the maximum about of probation and fines imposed under US law.

To date, the US has fined ZTE $1.9 billion and placed the company under two different monitors - the one in Dallas for five years, and a group of lawyers based in Washington for ten years. The latter have six years remaining, and comes out of ZTE’s own pocket.

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