Mistrial Declared in Case of Tennessee Professor Accused of Concealing China Ties

June 17, 2021 Updated: June 17, 2021

A U.S. district judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in the case of a former University of Tennessee professor accused of hiding his ties with a Chinese university to get federal research funds.

The six-day trial against Anming Hu, a 52-year-old citizen of Canada charged with wire fraud and making false statements, ended in a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict, reported Knoxville News Sentinel.

Hu’s case was part of the Justice Department’s “China Initiative,” an effort started under the Trump administration to identify and prosecute individuals stealing intellectual property from American colleges and universities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Regime. It is not clear if the federal government will try again to prosecute him.

Hu was first indicted in February 2020. The indictment alleges that beginning in 2016, Hu intentionally provided false statements to the University of Tennessee (UT) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to hide his affiliation with Beijing University of Technology (BJUT), one of 76 top-tier universities directly administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Under a federal law passed in 2011, agencies like NASA are banned from using appropriated funds on projects involving collaboration with Chinese-owned companies or universities. Federal prosecutors said Hu’s statements caused UT to falsely certify to NASA that it was in compliance with that law.

UT officials testified to the court that a conflict of interest disclosure form they sent Hu asked him to list any outside work that earns him more than $10,000, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. Hu earned less than $2,000 annually from his part-time work with BJUT, and failed to disclose his Beijing work on that form, although he mentioned his ties to BJUT in other required forms and in email exchanges with both UT officials and a NASA contractor.

During the cross-examination, FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku, who launched an economic espionage investigation into Hu, admitted that he told UT officials that the professor was a spy for the Chinese military, a claim he couldn’t back up. Sadiku also said he ordered a surveillance team to spend 21 months monitoring Hu and his son, a student at UT, after Hu told the agent he did not participate in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a recruitment program designed to lure individuals with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China, and refused to work as a spy for the U.S. government.

“You wanted to find a Chinese spy in Knoxville,” defense attorney Phil Lomonaco said, according to the News Sentinel.

“My job is to find spies, yes,” Sadiku replied.

The trial ends as Meyya Meyyappan, a senior NASA scientist, was sentenced on Wednesday for failing to disclose to the agency that he is participating in the Thousand Talents Plan.

“As a senior NASA scientist with access to sensitive and confidential U.S. government technologies and intellectual property, Meyya Meyyappan was understandably subject to restrictions regarding outside employment and compensation,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a press release.

Meyyappan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a fine of $100,000.