National Security

US drops case against MIT professor accused of failing to disclose Chinese ties

The Department of Justice seal is seen in Washington, D.C.
Associated Press/Jose Luis Magana

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice asked a Boston court on Thursday to drop a case against an MIT professor accused of failing to disclose ties with China.

The DOJ said it could no longer “meet its burden of proof at trial” for the prosecution of Gang Chen, a professor and researcher at MIT, a Thursday statement reads, citing new details that informed the decision.

“Today’s dismissal of the criminal charges against Gang Chen is a result of our continued investigation into this matter. Through that effort, we recently obtained additional information pertaining to the materiality of Professor Chen’s alleged omissions in the context of the grant review process at issue in this case,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins. “After a careful assessment of this new information in the context of all the evidence, our office has concluded that we can no longer meet our burden of proof at trial.”

The move was expected after The Washington Post reported last week that the case was in jeopardy.

Robert Fisher, a defense attorney for Chen, applauded the dropped charges in a statement obtained by the MIT Technology Review.

“The government finally acknowledged what we said all along: Professor Gang Chen is an innocent man,” he said.

A judge will review the filing, but the move to drop charges likely spells the end of a case included in the DOJ’s China Initiative, a controversial program from the department with a “strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats” focused on investigating “and prosecuting those engaged in trade secret theft, hacking, and economic espionage,” according to the DOJ’s website.

The effort so far has resulted in dozens of cases brought against Chinese nationalists, businesspeople and academics, including a rheumatologist professor sentenced to 37 months in prison last year for his role in an “immunology research fraud scheme” and a Chinese intelligence officer who was convicted in November for attempting to steal trade secrets, according to the DOJ’s webpage.

The China Initiative, led by the DOJ’s National Security Division since it was established in 2018, is under review after critics have raised concerns about the targeting of people based on their ethnicity.

The DOJ has accused Chen of being an “overseas expert” with ties to the People’s Republic of China (PCR) while receiving millions of dollars of funding from the PRC since 2012.

He was charged with failing to disclose that he was an advisor for PRC entities when he applied for and received a U.S. Department of Energy grant between 2017 and 2019, the DOJ said in a press release. Chen was indicted last January on two counts of wire fraud, one count of failing to file a foreign bank account report (FBAR) and one count of making a false statement in a tax return.

Fisher said his client did not commit “any of the offenses he was charged with.”

“He was never in a talent program. He was never an overseas scientist for Beijing. He disclosed everything that he was supposed to disclose and never lied to the government or anyone else,” Fisher said in his statement, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Tags Boston China Initiative Department of Justice Dropped charges Gang Chen Massachusetts Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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