A year later, Chen was arrested on suspicion of fraud with federal subsidy and publicly accused of disloyalty to the United States – a charge typically raised in espionage cases, not subsidy fraud, as Chen’s defense team pointed out in its attempt to formally sanction the US prosecution. for the statement. Chen was eventually charged with three counts of electronic fraud, false statements and failure to report a foreign bank account.
But the crux of the matter was whether the nanotechnologist had revealed 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 funding from the Ministry of Energy.
That question became less important when an official from the Ministry of Energy confirmed these subsidy claims in 2017, when Chen submitted his application, did not prescribe that he should disclose positions in China, but this publication would not have affected his appropriations, as the Wall Street Journal first reported.
The money at the center of the fraud allegations – $ 25 million – was earmarked for MIT to support a new collaborative research center at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology instead of Chen individually. “While Professor Chen is its first MIT faculty director, this is not an individual collaboration; it is a department supported by the institute, ”MIT President Raphael Reif explained in a letter to the MIT community last year.
As one of the most prominent scientists accused during the initiative, Chen’s case received wide attention. MIT faculty members wrote an open letter in support of the scholar that also reflected the broader concerns of academia about the criminalization of standard academic activity. “In many respects, the complaint against Gang Chen is a complaint against all of us, a violation of any citizen who values science and the scientific enterprise,” they wrote.
Since Chen’s allegations will almost certainly be rejected, there are still six cases of research integrity pending. Four are scheduled to go to court later in the spring. Meanwhile, a growing number of different groups, from scientific societies, civil rights organizations, legislators and even former officials involved in the design of the program, have called for either stopping the program or at least targeting academics.
The Justice Department “is reviewing our approach to addressing threats from the Chinese government,” said Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle. MIT Technology Review in an email. “We expect to complete the review and provide additional information in the coming weeks.” He referred questions about Chen’s case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, which has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, on January 4, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published updated guidance on strengthening the protection of U.S. research and development against foreign interference, which included further details on disclosure requirements for lead investigators.
As for Chen, “he looks forward to resolving the criminal case as soon as possible,” his lawyer, Robert Fischer, told the MIT Technology Review.
Additional reporting by Jess Aloe.