A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor was arrested and charged Thursday with hiding work he did for the Chinese government while he was also receiving United States dollars for his nanotechnology research.
Gang Chen, 56, was arrested by federal agents at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts on charges including wire fraud, officials said. Agents executed search warrants at his home and his office at the university, said Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the Boston FBI office.
While working for MIT, Chen entered into undisclosed contracts and held appointments affiliated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government at the request of the PRC Consulate Office in New York, authorities said. Many of those roles were “expressly intended to further the PRC’s scientific and technological goals”, said authorities 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 $29m in foreign dollars, including millions from a Chinese government-funded public research university, while getting $19m in grants from US 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 US Attorney Andrew Lelling told reporters.
An email seeking comment was sent to Chen’s attorney.
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 University professor Charles Lieber was charged last January with lying about his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a programme 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 prosecutions by the US Department of Justice against researchers at US universities who are accused of concealing their professional relationships with Chinese institutions. Dozens of academics working in the US have been charged in cases that often accuse them of failing to disclose research grants they had received from universities in China.