LONGi Green Energy, a Chinese firm backed by an investment group in which Biden administration climate czar John Kerry holds a $1 million stake, had its imports seized last week by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) because it works with companies known to be using forced labor, The Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday.
While Kerry sold off earlier this year many of his energy-related holdings, those divestments did not include Hillhouse China Value Fund L.P, which is part of the Hillhouse investment group, according to a disclosure filed in March with the Office of Government Ethics.
CBP cited a law forbidding foreign imports produced through labor abuses as the reason for seizing the imports from LONGi Green Energy.
Last December Hillhouse China Value Fund L.P. bought a 6% stake in LONGi Green Energy, a Chinese solar panel manufacturer, making it the company’s second largest shareholder.
Human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have accused LONGi of sourcing many of its raw materials from companies that are believed to use forced labor in Xinjiang, a region where Beijing has abused the Uyghur population and other ethnic minorities.
Kerry's Hillhouse stake is through a trust in which his wife is the beneficiary. Kerry said in his disclosure that they have no say in managing the investments, according to the Free Beacon.
LONGi Green Energy said in an announcement filed by its board of directors with the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Nov. 4 that its products were temporarily detained by CBP from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3 under a "Withhold Release Order," the Free Beacon reported.
Such orders, according to the CBP website, are meant to "prevent merchandise produced in whole or in part in a foreign country using forced labor from being imported into the United States."
LONGi’s board of directors tried to downplay worries over the order, saying it only "accounted for approximately 1.59% of export sales" to the United States last year.
However, Roth Capital Partners, a financial analyst firm, has warned that investors should "look for this to impact LONGi in a broad-based way."
Republicans have raised questions about whether Kerry is using his position as climate envoy to prevent regulations on Chinese solar panel imports.
"On the one hand, we’re saying to [China], ‘You have to do more to help deal with the climate,’" Kerry said recently. "And on the other hand, their solar panels are being sanctioned, which makes it harder for them to sell them."
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