China-connected researcher charged with grant fraud in US

Top Trump administration officials are leading a new push to condemn China for stealing US innovation and intellectual property
Top Trump administration officials are leading a new push to condemn China for stealing US innovation and intellectual propertyPHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A researcher who worked at US universities was charged with illegally using grant funding to develop scientific expertise for the Chinese government, the Justice Department said Thursday (July 9).

The charges against Song Guo Zheng, 57, were announced as top US officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, escalate efforts to counter Chinese theft of US trade secrets and research.

Zheng didn't disclose he was using about $4 million (S$5.57 million) in grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop China's expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology, the Justice Department said in a statement.

He is also accused of making false statements about maintaining employment in China while he was working at universities in the US, including Ohio State, the department said.

Zheng, who was arrested in Alaska in May as he was about to board a flight to China, was ordered held without bail on Thursday following a detention hearing.

A criminal complaint was filed May 23 and unsealed Thursday.

Top Trump administration officials are leading a new push to condemn China for stealing US innovation and intellectual property, including through the use of professors and scientists.

"China uses a diverse range of sophisticated techniques - everything from cyber intrusions to corrupting trusted insiders," Mr Wray said during a speech at the Hudson Institute on Tuesday.

"And they've pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors - including not just Chinese intelligence services but state-owned enterprises, ostensibly private companies, certain kinds of graduate students and researchers, and a whole variety of other actors working on their behalf," Mr Wray said.

 
 

In May, the FBI arrested and charged a former researcher with the Cleveland Clinic who worked on molecular medicine and a University of Arkansas scientist doing research for NASA.

They were accused of committing fraud by concealing their participation in Chinese talent-recruitment programs while accepting millions of dollars in federal grants, Mr Wray said.

"All of these seemingly inconsequential pressures add up to a policy making environment in which Americans find themselves held over a barrel by the Chinese Communist Party," Mr Wray said.