Justice Dept. charges professor with hiding ties to China

Published 9:13 am Monday, March 2, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — A professor at the University of Tennessee has been arrested on charges that he hid his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving research grants from the federal government, the Justice Department said Thursday.

Anming Hu, an associate professor in the department of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering at the university’s flagship Knoxville campus, was charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements.

After the indictment was announced, the university said Hu had been suspended and that school officials had cooperated.

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“University leadership is fully committed to adherence to grant procedures and the protection of intellectual property,” the school said in a statement.

The arrest is part of a broader Justice Department crackdown against university researchers who conceal their ties to Chinese institutions, with a Harvard chemistry professor recently arrested on similar charges. Federal officials have also asserted that Beijing is intent on stealing intellectual property from America’s colleges and universities, and have actively been warning schools to be on alert against espionage attempts.

Prosecutors say Hu defrauded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by failing to disclose the fact that he was also a professor at the Beijing University of Technology in China. Under federal law, NASA cannot fund or give grant money to Chinese-owned companies or universities.

According to the indictment, as the University of Tennessee last December was preparing a proposal on Hu’s behalf for a NASA-funded project, Hu provided false assurances to the school that he was not part of any business collaboration involving China.

In addition, prosecutors say, a curriculum vitae that Hu submitted when he applied for a tenured faculty position with the university omitted any affiliation with the Beijing University.

“This is just the latest case involving professors or researchers concealing their affiliations with China from their American employers and the U.S. government,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement. “We will not tolerate it.”

A federal defender assigned to represent Hu declined to comment.