The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reportedly dropped cases against five visiting researchers from China accused of lying about their ties to the Chinese military.
The Wall Street Journal described the move as “a major setback to a landmark effort to root out alleged Chinese intelligence gathering in the U.S.”
According to the outlet, federal prosecutors said in court documents filed late Thursday and Friday that “they would no longer pursue visa fraud and other charges against the scientists, including biomedical and cancer researchers in California and a doctoral candidate studying artificial intelligence in Indiana.”
The WSJ reported: “The academics had been arrested last July in an FBI sweep that began after another researcher, Wang Xin, acknowledged to law enforcement – as he tried to leave the U.S. – that he had lied about his military service on his visa application to boost his chances of gaining admission to the U.S., and had been tasked with bringing back some information by a supervisor.” He had worked in a lab at the University of California-San Francisco.
Dr. Juan Tang, 38, another visiting researcher at the University of California-Davis, was set to go on trial in Sacramento on Monday. After her case was formally dropped on Friday, “Tang had her GPS ankle bracelet removed, her Chinese passport returned and she headed toward a flight home to see her mother, husband and 9-year-old daughter for the first time in a year,” according to the Sacramento Bee. The outlet reported, “The motion by Assistant U.S. Attorney Heiko Coppola gave no reason for seeking the dismissal, and acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert declined to comment.”
According to the WSJ, “Judges had dismissed parts of the cases against Ms. Tang and another researcher in recent weeks after finding that FBI agents hadn’t properly informed them of their rights against self-incrimination when interviewing them.”
“In all of our prosecutions, the Department of Justice evaluates the merits of a case as it prepares for trial,” said DOJ spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle. “Recent developments in a handful of cases involving defendants with alleged, undisclosed ties to the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China have prompted the Department to re-evaluate these prosecutions, and we have determined that it is now in the interest of justice to dismiss them.”
“The Department continues to place a very high priority on countering the threat posed to American research security and academic integrity by the PRC government’s agenda and policies,” Hornbuckle continued.
The other accused researchers included Chen Song, a neurologist who had been at Stanford University; Guan Lei, a researcher in artificial intelligence at UCLA; and Zhao Kaikai, an artificial intelligence doctoral student at Indiana University.
According to officials, soon after the State Department claimed to have evidence that showed Chinese consulates assisting the visiting scientists last year, more than 1,000 Chinese military-affiliated researchers left the United States.