In further crackdown on China initiative, prosecutors move to dismiss a high-profile case

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A year later, Chen was arrested on suspicion of federal grant fraud and publicly accused of infidelity to the United States — a charge that, as Chen’s defense team has pointed out in its attempt to formally sanction the U.S. attorney’s office, usually in espionage cases , instead of grant fraud as a statement. Chen was ultimately charged with three counts of wire fraud, misrepresentation and failure to file a report on a foreign bank account.

But at the heart of the case is whether the nanotechnology experts disclosed contracts, appointments and awards from PRC entities, including a Chinese talent program and more than $19 million in funding from the Chinese government, as well as from the Department of Energy.

The issue became less important when DOE officials confirmed the funding request in 2017, when Chen submitted His application did not stipulate that he must disclose his position in China, but as the Wall Street Journal first reported, the disclosure would not affect his funding.

Funding at the heart of the fraud allegations — $25 million — was to support a new MIT collaborative research center at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, not Chen. “While Professor Chen was MIT’s inaugural faculty director, this was not an individual collaboration; it was a sectoral one, supported by the Institute,” MIT Dean Rafael Reif last year explained in a letter to the MIT community.

As one of the most prominent scientists under the initiative, Chen’s case has received widespread attention. MIT faculty and staff wrote an open letter in support of the scholar, which also reflects broader concerns in academia about criminalizing standard academic activity. “In many ways, the complaint against Chen Gang is a complaint against all of us and an insult to any citizen who values ​​science and the cause of science,” they wrote.

What’s next?

With Chen’s allegations almost certain to be dismissed, six more research integrity cases are still pending. The four are scheduled to stand trial later this spring. At the same time, a growing number of different groups, including scientific societies, civil rights groups, lawmakers, and even former officials involved in the creation of the plan, have been calling for it to end, or at least target academia.

Justice Department spokeswoman Wyn Hornbuckle said the department was “reviewing our approach to the threat posed by the Chinese government.” MIT Technology Review in an email. “We expect to complete our review and provide more information in the coming weeks.” He referred questions about Chen’s case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, which has not responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 4, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released updated guidance on strengthening protections for U.S. research and development from foreign interference, including more details on disclosure requirements for key researchers.

As for Chen, “he looks forward to resolving the criminal matter as soon as possible,” his attorney, Robert Fischer, told MIT Technology Review.

Additional reporting by Jess Aloe.


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