A year later, Chen was arrested on suspicion of fraud in federal grants and publicly charged with disloyalty to the United States – a charge commonly made in espionage cases rather than grant fraud, as Chen’s defense team pointed out in its try to formally sanction the U.S. Attorney’s Office for this statement. Chen was eventually charged with three counts of wire fraud, false statements and failure to report a foreign bank account.
But the crux of the case was whether the nanotechnologist discovered contracts, appointments and awards from entities in the People’s Republic of China, including a Chinese talent program and more than $ 19 million in funding from the Chinese government, while receiving federal grants from the Ministry of Energy.
This issue became less important when an Energy Ministry official confirmed those grant applications in 2017, when Chen applied his application did not stipulate that he must disclose posts in China, but that disclosure would not affect his grants, according to the Wall Street Journal first reported.
The money at the heart of the fraud allegations – $ 25 million – went to MIT to support a new joint research center at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, instead of Chen individually. “While Professor Chen is his inaugural director of the MIT faculty, this is not an individual collaboration; it is a departmental department, supported by the Institute, ”explained MIT President Raphael Reif ua letter MIT community last year.
As one of the most prominent scientists indicted under this initiative, Chen’s case has received widespread attention. MIT faculty members wrote open letter supporting a scientist who also reflected the wider concern of the academic community about the criminalization of standard academic activity. “In many respects, the complaint against Gang Chen is a complaint against all of us, an insult to every citizen who values science and scientific endeavor,” they wrote.
With Chen’s allegations almost certain to be dismissed, six more cases of research integrity remain pending. The four are due to stand trial later this spring. Meanwhile, a growing number of different groups, from scientific associations, civil rights organizations, legislators and even former officials involved in shaping the program they call for either the termination of the program, or at least the targeting of academics.
The Justice Department is “reviewing our approach to countering threats posed by the PRC government,” said department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle MIT Technology Review in email. “We anticipate completing the review and providing additional information in the coming weeks.” He asked questions about Chen’s case to the American prosecutor’s office in Boston, which has not yet responded to the request for comment.
Meanwhile, on January 4, the White House Office of Science and Technology announced updated manual on strengthening the protection of U.S. research and development from foreign interference, which included additional details on disclosure requirements for principal investigators.
As for Chen, “He looks forward to resolving the criminal matter as soon as possible,” his lawyer Robert Fisher told the MIT Technology Review.
Additional reporting by Jess Aloe.