The Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) issued settlement documents last week indicating that a California company called Fulfill Your Packages agreed to pay a $250,000 fine, of which $190,000 was suspended if the company behaves itself for the next two years and commits no further export violations. At least from the facts recited by BIS, it’s a very odd case.
Fulfill Your Packages is apparently a company that agrees to serve as a local address for Chinese companies. Those companies order products from U.S. companies which Fulfill Your Packages dutiful re-packages and ships to China. Frankly, a better name for the company might be Ginormous Export Red Flag, Inc., but I suppose Fulfill Your Packages sounds better.
The violation arose from an unnamed Chinese company ordering an export controlled FLIR thermal imaging camera from an unnamed U.S. company which then shipped the camera to Fulfill Your Packages’ address in Portland, Oregon. The Google Street View of that address reveals a large warehouse. Google itself further reveals that the address is used by several logistics companies and, oddly, a liquor store.
When Fulfill Your Packages received the package, it dutifully repackaged the FLIR system and arranged for the USPS to pick up the package. For reasons that aren’t clear, Fulfill Your Packages described the item on shipping documents as “metal parts” even though its own order system described the item as an “infrared webcam/surveillance installation kit.” It also stated the value as $255 even though the distributor’s invoice for the camera received with the package listed the value at $2,617. It’s not clear at all why the company, for the small fee it was receiving, would falsify the export documents. It didn’t really have a dog in the race. Of course, it could be simple incompetence. Or perhaps it was some conspiracy with the Chinese purchaser for a large sum. There’s no way to tell.
But what about the distributor that shipped a FLIR system to a warehouse in Oregon for a Chinese customer? Don’t they bear some responsibility here? They didn’t ignore red flags, they ignored red banners the size of a skyscraper. Or maybe not. The BIS documents suggest that BIS thwarted the shipment before the USPS arrived to pick up the package. What likely happened here is that the distributor did do its job, did consult the all-knowing wizard of Google while evaluating the order, smelled a rat and called BIS.
The lesson here is that the Internet is your friend and that orders for export controlled items should not be fulfilled without doing the research that is now, literally, at your fingertips.