US drops charges against Chinese-born MIT professor

Gang Chen (above, in a handout photo) was charged with wire fraud, failure to report a foreign bank account and making a false statement. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Justice Department dismissed criminal charges on Thursday against a Chinese-born professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who had been accused of failing to disclose his ties with China.

Gang Chen, a nanotechnologist who headed the mechanical engineering department at the prestigious Boston university, had been charged with wire fraud, failure to report a foreign bank account and making a false statement.

US Attorney Rachael Rollins said the charges against Chen were being dropped as a "result of our continued investigation" into the matter.

"After a careful assessment of this new information in the context of all the evidence, our office has concluded that we can no longer meet our burden of proof at trial," Rollins said in a statement.

"Today's dismissal is a result of that process and is in the interests of justice."

Chen was one of a number of prominent academics arrested as part of a controversial probe known as the "China Initiative" launched under former president Donald Trump into alleged "economic espionage" by China.

The investigation has come under fire for targeting academics of Chinese heritage and a number of other cases have also been dismissed.

Charles Lieber, a Harvard University chemistry professor, was convicted last month of lying to US authorities about his links with a Chinese school and recruitment programme.

Lieber was the most prominent American scientist to face charges in connection with the investigation although he was not accused of engaging in espionage or intellectual property theft.

Chen, who was born in China and became a US citizen in 2000, was arrested last January and accused of failing to disclose his links to Chinese government institutions in grant applications he made to the US Department of Energy.

Chen, who has been on leave from MIT since his arrest, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"Today is a great day," Chen's lawyer Robert Fisher said in a statement to US media.

"The government finally acknowledged what we have said all along: Professor Gang Chen is an innocent man.

"Our defence was never based on any legal technicalities. Our defence was this: Gang did not commit any of the offences he was charged with. Full stop."

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