Chinese Scientist Accused of Espionage in US Gets Fundraiser Back Home

June 9, 2015 Updated: June 9, 2015

The alumni association of a Chinese university is seeking public donations to help a professor arrested last month in Los Angeles hire a defense lawyer, state-run media report. The professor is one of two being charged with stealing trade secrets, an act apparently sponsored by the university.

Media reports in China, along with the alumni group, generally sought to characterize the charges as unfair. One headline read: “America again sues Chinese citizens for ‘economic espionage.'”

The university’s alumni association recently decided to launch a donation drive to help raise legal costs for Zhang Hao, 36, after learning from Zhang’s wife that a legal firm said she would need 20 to 30 million yuan ($3.2 to $4.8 million) to fight the case.

The alumni group also gave the impression that Zhang would not be appointed an attorney if money was not raised. “According to U.S. law, Zhang Hao must find a suitable legal team in order to defend his own interests through legal means and prove that he is innocent. However, legal fees are costly and are unaffordable for Zhang’s family who are from a village, and earn ordinary wages,” wrote Tianjin University Alumni Association in a published statement calling for public donations.

Tianjin University professors Zhang Hao and Pang Wei, and four other co-conspirators were arrested in the United States on May 16 for allegedly stealing a type of radio frequency filter technology crucial to cell-phones from two U.S. companies.

Before joining Tianjin University, a college in northeastern China, in 2009, Zhang worked at Skyworks Solutions Inc. in Massachusetts while Pang was an employee at Avago Technologies in Colorado.

According to the 32-page indictment, the defendants could face up a lengthy prison term, one based on the dollar value of the trade secrets they allegedly stole.

Tianjin University expressed “indignation” over the arrest through state mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency. On June 5 the college, which says it is the oldest in China, stressed its academic integrity and dedication to innovation, as well as Zhang’s “outstanding character,” on its official Sina Weibo account. Sina Weibo is a popular Chinese microblogging service.

But Tianjin University is closely linked with the economic espionage, according to indictment documents.

In 2008, the college’s officials met up with Zhang, Pang, and the four other defendants in San Jose, California in 2008 and agreed to a joint venture, ROFS Microsystem, to mass produce the filter technology. Zhang and Pang stayed on in their respective U.S. companies while working with Tianjin University, then resigned in 2009 and took up professorships in the Chinese college.

The news calling for a donation drive was published widely in the state press, including in Global Times and Beijing News, both state-run news publications. Comments in response to the articles online were heated and on Sina, a major web portal, the news garnered over 4,000 written responses. Some Internet users pledged support, whether the men were guilty or not; others wondered why the legal fees were so high; and others asked whether they could expect their money back if the men were indeed found guilty.