Former Professor Pleads Guilty to Wire, Tax Fraud Related to China Business Trips

July 24, 2020 Updated: July 24, 2020

A former West Virginia University professor has pleaded guilty to wire and tax fraud in connection to his official trips to China.

Sun Qingyun, 58, a Chinese national living in Morgantown, West Virginia, admitted to defrauding West Virginia University (WVU) and filing a false tax return, according to a July 23 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Sun is currently not employed by WVU.

At WVU, Sun was an associate professor and associate director of the campus’s U.S.-China Energy Center. According to the school website, the Center partners with Chinese companies and universities, including state-run China Energy Investment Group, Shanxi International Energy Group, and China University of Mining and Technology (CUMT).

According to the CUMT website, Sun graduated from the university in 1984 and visited his alma mater several times in recent years, including once in 2013 to present an academic report and another in 2016 to hold talks about cooperation projects between WVU and CUMT.

West Virginia-based newspaper The Journal reported that Sun was part of the U.S.-China Energy Center as of at least 2019.

“As a part of his employment at WVU, through the West Virginia Development Office (WVDO), he also acted as the [state] Governor’s assistant for China affairs,” according to the DOJ.

Sun also had his own consulting company, Energy United LC, which he established in 2005, according to the DOJ. His company provided consulting services to the St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Generation Holding Company from July 2011 to May 2015.

He was also employed by Virginia-based Synfuels Americas Corporation, whose headquarters are in China.

For a trip to China in 2015 on behalf of WVU and WVDO, Sun booked two airline tickets, one coach flight, and a business class flight. He only used the business class ticket and reimbursed the ticket with Synfuels America. However, he also reimbursed the unused coach flight ticket with WVU.

The purpose of Sun’s trip was to lead a West Virginia delegation for a coal expo in Beijing, according to the DOJ.

The tax fraud took place in 2014 when Sun filed a joint income tax return with his wife, “grossly overstating his business-related travel expenses” when “a large sum of those travel expenses” were reimbursed to him by WVU and Peabody Energy, according to the press release.

He also failed to disclose his business interests in China on his income tax return.

Sun has agreed to pay $6,233.12 in restitution to WVU as a part of the plea agreement.

If convicted, Sun faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for wire fraud, and 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for tax fraud.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer