U.S. prosecutors recommend dropping China charges against MIT professor: source

A sign at Building 76 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
The sign at Building 76 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., November 21, 2018. Picture taken November 21, 2018. To match Exclusive USA-CHINA/STUDENTS REUTERS/Brian Snyder

January 14, 2022

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors have recommended that the U.S. Justice Department drop charges against a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor accused of concealing his ties to China when seeking federal grant money, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.

The decision by federal prosecutors in Boston to seek the dismissal of the case against Chinese-born mechanical engineer and nanotechnologist Gang Chen marks the latest setback for a crackdown on Chinese influence within U.S. research.

He was accused of failing to disclose, among other things, that he served as an “overseas expert” to the Chinese government and sat on the advisory board of Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology when applying for a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

“However, as it turns out, nothing significant was omitted on his application and several of the government’s allegations were simply wrong,” said Brian Kelly, a lawyer for Chen at Nixon Peabody.

Boston prosecutors decided to recommend dropping the case in recent weeks based on the new information, the person said, adding that the Justice Department has not made a final decision.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesperson, had no comment on Chen’s particular case but said the department was reviewing its approach to countering threats posed by China.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

Chen was charged last year as part of the department’s “China Initiative,” launched during former President Donald Trump’s administration to counter suspected Chinese economic espionage and research theft.

Targets included university researchers. A Harvard professor, Charles Lieber, last month was convicted of lying about his ties to a China-run recruitment program. He is expected to appeal.

Critics say the initiative chilled academic research and targeted Chinese researchers through racial profiling. And despite the Harvard win, several other cases have faltered.

A Tennessee professor was acquitted by a judge last year following a mistrial, and prosecutors dropped charges against six other researchers.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio)

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