LOS ANGELES • A Chinese scientific researcher suspected of espionage was arrested in Los Angeles this week as he attempted to leave the United States, officials said on Thursday.
Wang Xin was taken into custody on Sunday as he prepared to board a flight to Tianjin, China, the US Attorney's Office in San Francisco and the local Federal Bureau of Investigation office said in a joint statement.
The authorities said Wang entered the US in March last year posing as a medical researcher seeking to do scientific research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
In reality, officials said, he admitted when questioned by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents at the airport that he was an officer in China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) and was employed by a military university lab.
Wang, according to court documents, told CBP agents that he had been instructed by his superiors in China to observe the layout of the UCSF lab and bring back information on how to replicate it in China.
"CBP received information that Wang had studies from UCSF with him which he was taking to share with his PLA colleagues, and he had sent research to his lab in China via e-mail," officials said in their statement. "Wang similarly told his supervising UCSF professor that he had duplicated some of the work of that professor at the lab in China."
Some of the work of the UCSF lab was funded by grants from the United States Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, federal officials said.
Wang, they added, also wiped his personal phone of WeChat messaging content before arriving at the airport for his flight back home.
He has been charged with visa fraud and faces up to 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 (S$347,200) fine if convicted.
His arrest comes as relations between the US and China have soured in recent months over the Covid-19 pandemic and trade issues.