National Security

DOJ charges NASA researcher with failing to disclose China ties

Greg Nash

The Justice Department is charging a Texas A&M University professor with concealing his ties to the Chinese government for years as he led a team conducting research for NASA.

Zhengdong Cheng, who was apprehended on Sunday, is being charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud, according to to a criminal complaint that was unsealed Monday.

The government is alleging that Cheng sought to obscure his ties to a Chinese university, Guangdong University of Technology, and at least one Chinese-owned company for several years, which violated the terms of the grant he received from NASA to conduct research. 

Federal prosecutors allege that he participated in the People’s Republic of China Talents program, which aims to recruit strong talent to help fuel China’s scientific and economic growth. 

“Once again, we have witnessed the criminal consequences that can arise from undisclosed participation in the Chinese government’s talent program,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement. 

In particular, the criminal complaint says Cheng received grant money while knowingly giving false information to Texas A&M University as well as NASA about his Chinese connections. And by gaining unique access within NASA and the International Space Station, the government alleges that Cheng was able to build more leverage in China, where he held senior research roles.

“As alleged, Zhengdong Cheng knowingly deceived NASA officials about his association with Chinese owned companies and universities, willingly accepted U.S. government funding, and defrauded his university,” said Assistant Director Alan Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. 

Cheng was slated to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Sheldon on Monday morning in Houston, Texas.  




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