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US judge won’t issue stay of order granting bail to Chinese military scientist

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

A federal judge has refused a prosecutor’s request that he stay an order granting bail to a Chinese scientist accused of lying about her background to gain entry to the United States to perform research at UC Davis.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez issued an order Friday refusing the government’s request to stay an earlier decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman granting bail to Dr. Juan Tang while she fights charges that she lied about her ties to China’s military.

Her lawyers say the charges could result in a jail sentence of as little as six months, and that given court shutdowns because of COVID-19 her case could take much longer to resolve.

“Defendant is not presently charged with a crime that carries a presumption of detention and the United States has not demonstrated good cause to warrant a stay of Magistrate Judge Newman’s carefully considered decision to release Defendant, subject to an extensive combination of conditions designed to best assure Defendant’s presence at all future proceedings in this case,” Mendez wrote.

Tang, 37, is accused of lying about her ties to the Chinese military and China’s Communist Party on her visa application to come to the United States to perform cancer research at UC Davis.

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The FBI questioned her in June and seized her passport, and Tang subsequently sought refuge inside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco until she emerged for a doctor’s appointment in July and was arrested.

She has been held in the Sacramento County Main Jail since then, but Newman agreed last week to allow her release to go live in the home of a Bay Area lawyer who pledged $750,000 in home equity as a surety bond, despite the fact that he had never met or spoken to her before.

The lawyer, identified in court only as Mr. C, has said he emigrated from China decades ago and was prompted to come forward to help because he believes in the American justice system. He also has said he was acting on his own and had no contact with the Chinese government.

Tang’s lawyers, Malcolm Segal and Tom Johnson, sought to keep the lawyer’s identity secret to prevent protests from occurring outside his home. Segal said Thursday there already have been protests outside the closed federal building in downtown Sacramento denouncing Tang.

But Newman said during a Thursday hearing that he would only seal the lawyer’s home address and would allow his name and city of residence to appear on documents that will be filed in court as part of the process of putting the home up as collateral.

Whether and when Tang actually will be released is still uncertain. Assistant U.S. Attorney Heiko Coppola has argued strenuously that she is a flight risk with no ties to this country.

“Judge Newman’s release order is unprecedented when considered in light of all the circumstances because it relies so heavily on a third party custodian who initially volunteered for service and later consented to posting the portion of the equity in his residence to secure Tang’s release,” he wrote in a court filing. “Tang has no personal or professional ties with the third party custodian.

“As of the August 27 and 28 hearings, Tang and the third party custodian had never spoken to each other or personally met. The third party custodian and his wife have never met nor are they acquainted with Tang’s husband, child or other family members. The lack of any personal connection between the proposed third party custodian and Tang is particularly troubling because he has none of intangible characteristics that make a third party custodian a viable option for an individual who is a flight risk.”

Tang’s lawyers dispute the government’s argument, saying Tang has no interest in becoming a fugitive over the case.

“No one alleges that the defendant is a danger to the community,” they wrote in court filings. “The government’s sole contention is that as a foreign citizen, albeit one without a passport, the defendant is a flight risk.

“The argument that this accomplished scientist is a flight risk is not grounded on anything she said or expressly manifested – she did not flee to the border or hide under another name – but rather on conduct which is at best ambiguous. After the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized her passport, laptop, and phone, but she was not arrested, Dr. Tang went to her country’s consulate and chose to stay there while she tried to understand what had occurred.

“Within hours of learning from consulate personnel that they were informed of an arrest warrant issued for her, she voluntarily left the consulate expecting to be arrested. She stopped only for a medical consultation before the FBI took her into custody.”

Tang’s arrest is part of a nationwide effort by the Justice Department to focus on Chinese researchers at American universities who prosecutors say have misled authorities about their ties to China’s military.

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© 2020 The Sacramento Bee