MIT professor charged with hiding work for China

AP Science

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor was charged Thursday with hiding work he did for the Chinese government while he was also collecting U.S. dollars for his nanotechnology research.

Gang Chen, 56, was arrested by federal agents at his home in Cambridge on charges including wire fraud, officials said.

While working for MIT, Chen entered into undisclosed contracts and held appointments with Chinese entities, including acting as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government at the request of the People’s Republic of China Consulate Office in New York, authorities said. Many of those roles were “expressly intended to further the PRC’s scientific and technological goals,” authorities said in court documents.

Chen did not disclose his connections to China, as is required on federal grant applications, authorities said. He and his research group collected about $29 million in foreign dollars, including millions from a Chinese government funded university funded, while getting $19 million in grants from U.S federal agencies for his work at MIT since 2013, authorities said

“It is not illegal to collaborate with foreign researchers. It is illegal to lie about it,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling told reporters.

Chen’s attorney said the professor “loves the United States and looks forward to vigorously defending these allegations.”

“Since Gang moved to this country over 30 years ago, his life has been the epitome of the American dream. He has dedicated his life to scientific advancement in mechanical engineering,” attorney Rob Fisher said in an email.

Gang was ordered released from custody during a hearing held via videoconference before a Boston federal court judge. Hours earlier, agents executed search warrants at his home and his office at the university, said Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the Boston FBI office.

MIT said it is “deeply distressed” by Chen’s arrest.

“MIT believes the integrity of research is a fundamental responsibility, and we take seriously concerns about improper influence in U.S. research. Prof. Chen is a long-serving and highly respected member of the research community, which makes the government’s allegations against him all the more distressing,” the school said in a statement.

Chen’s arrest comes nearly a year after federal authorities arrested another nanotechnology expert at a prestigious university in the Boston area. Harvard Professor Charles Lieber was charged last January with lying about his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a program designed to lure people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China.

Lieber’s attorney has denied the allegations, calling the professor the “victim in this case, not the perpetrator.”

The cases are part of a pattern of Justice Department prosecutions against researchers at American universities who are accused of concealing their professional relationships with Chinese institutions. Dozens of academics working in the U.S. have been charged in cases that often accuse them of failing to disclose research grants they had received from universities in China.

Earlier this month, several groups including Asian Americans Advancing Justice sent a letter to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden urging him to end the DOJ’s so-called “China Initiative.” The groups said the initiative has “greatly increased the targeting and profiling of Asian Americans and immigrants, particularly those of Chinese descent who are working in science and technology.”

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