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Grand jury charges UC Davis researcher with visa fraud and concealing membership in Chinese military

Tang Juan in a Chinese military uniform. (U.S. District Court/Released)

A federal grand jury in Sacramento has charged that a cancer researcher at UC Davis committed visa fraud when she concealed her alleged membership in the Chinese military in seeking permission to live and study in the United States.

The indictment returned Thursday also alleges that the researcher, Juan Tang, lied to the FBI.

Tang is among several Chinese nationals charged in U.S. courts in recent months, accused of concealing their alleged affiliations with the Chinese military and other government institutions in seeking research positions at several of the United States’ eminent universities, including Stanford and UC San Francisco.

Tang’s attorney, Alexandra Negin, said in an email that her client would enter a not-guilty plea Monday. She raised concern that Tang, who remains in custody, cannot exercise her right to a speedy trial because jury trials have been postponed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is truly a situation where a person who is presumed innocent is being punished before she even has a chance to have her case heard by a jury,” Negin said.

Federal prosecutors in Sacramento persuaded a judge to order Tang detained, citing her lack of ties to the United States and alleged links to the Chinese government, whose consulate and intelligence officials could spirit her out of the country and beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement.

Tang, 37, applied for a J-1 visa in October 2019 to “conduct cancer treatment-method research” at UC Davis, Heiko P. Coppola, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in court papers. On the application, she said “no” to a series of questions asking if she had ever served in the military, if she belonged to any communist parties and if she had “any special chemical or biological experience.”

“The FBI’s investigation determined Tang’s answers to these questions was false,” Coppola wrote. When agents searched her apartment in Davis in June, they found pictures of her wearing a military uniform, a video of her giving a salute in uniform, and “Chinese military documents” that showed she was researching “antidotes for biological agents,” he wrote.

After the agents left, taking with them Tang’s passport and other items, she went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco to seek help, Negin, her attorney, wrote in a memo.

Tang remained in the building for a month, prompting a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Sacramento to declare that the consulate was harboring “a fugitive from justice.”

When Tang learned of the charges, she was “in hysterics” and taken to a hospital, her attorney wrote in court papers. Agents tailed Tang to the hospital and arrested her after she was treated and discharged. She has been detained ever since.

Negin contended that much of the evidence federal authorities have cited as proof of Tang’s clandestine military affiliation, including photographs of her in uniform, “lend themselves to many innocent explanations.”

Tang may have attended “a prestigious medical school that is run by the military in China,” Negin wrote, but “that does not mean that she was ‘in the military.'”

Negin added: Tang may have given certain responses because she didn’t understand how the questions were phrased, or other “potential cultural misunderstandings.”


© 2020 the Los Angeles Times