Federal authorities on Feb. 27 arrested an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, (UTK) on charges relating to allegedly lying about links to a Chinese university while receiving funding from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Anming Hu, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering at UTK, was indicted by a grand jury on Feb. 25 and charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements, the justice department (DOJ) said in a press release.
Prosecutors allege that Hu in 2016 managed to obtain funding from NASA for a research project by hiding his affiliation with Beijing University of Technology (BJUT) where he was a professor in its Institute of Laser Engineering.
Federal law prohibits NASA from funding any projects done in collaboration with China or Chinese universities, the DOJ said.
Hu’s arrest is the second arrest in a month of a U.S. academic over an alleged failure to disclose ties to Chinese universities. In late January, Charles Lieber, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, was arrested for allegedly lying about funding he received from a Chinese state-sponsored recruitment program.
“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 for National Security John C. Demers said in the statement.
According to Hu’s indictment, the associate professor self-identified as a BJUT professor in research papers, certain CVs, and patent applications in China. While working as an associate professor at UTK, Hu also supervised BJUT graduate students and the operation of a laboratory at the university, while working on projects sponsored by the Chinese regime at BJUT, the document said.
Prosecutors allege Hu lied to UTK and made fraudulent omissions about his ties with BJUT. This caused the American university to falsely certify to NASA that UTK was in compliance with federal law relating to the agency’s China funding restrictions, the DOJ added.
Hu faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each of the wire fraud counts, if convicted. He also faces up to five years in prison on each of the false statement counts.
UTK did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Federal authorities are increasingly zeroing in on U.S. academics and researchers over ties with China-based institutions and China’s state-sponsored recruitment program known as the “Thousand Talents Program” due to concerns that it facilitates the transfer of sensitive U.S. research and intellectual property to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Since last July, the Department of Education has launched investigations into foreign funding at several U.S. universities, including Harvard and Yale, alleging that the institutes failed to disclose hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign sources of funding, as required by law.