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Chinese professor in Huawei case to admit guilt to lesser charge

Bo Mao was accused of stealing trade secrets for Huawei Technologies Co. (STR/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

A Chinese professor accused of stealing trade secrets for Huawei Technologies Co. will plead guilty to a reduced charge and be allowed to return to China, lawyers told a U.S. judge on Thursday.

Bo Mao, a computer science professor at Xiamen University in China and a visiting professor at the University of Texas, will admit to a single count of making a false statement. U.S. prosecutors will dismiss more serious counts of conspiracy and trade-secrets theft, they said at a hearing Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

The case, initiated last year, was part of a series of moves against Huawei by the the Trump administration, which has portrayed the Chinese telecom giant as a national security threat. Mao was initially held without bail in a federal lockup. The plea is a setback in the federal government’s battle against what it alleges is trade-secret theft by Chinese technology companies.

Prosecutors had initially accused Mao of stealing a computer chip on behalf of a Chinese telecommunications company while claiming to be doing academic research in 2016. The government’s case against Mao mirrors allegations CNEX Labs Inc. made in a civil suit in which the professor was accused of helping Huawei steal the technology.

The case is part of a broader crackdown by the Justice Department targeting Chinese scholars working in American university labs, some of whom have been accused of being “spies” or threats to national security even as they have been charged with more prosaic crimes, such as visa fraud.

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Under an agreement with prosecutors, Mao will be sentenced to time served and allowed to return home to China, his lawyer, Morris J. Fodeman, told U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen.

Huawei was previously accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, as well as of engaging in a 20-year pattern of corporate espionage. Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was charged in 2019 with fraud and is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. from Canada. Meng’s lawyers have argued in court that she did nothing wrong, while Huawei has pleaded not guilty and has called the charges “unfounded and unfair.”

The U.S separately announced a similar plea deal Thursday with a Chinese professor who admitted to making false statements in grant applications to the National Institute of Health that concealed his affiliation to a university in China.

Song Zheng, an immunologist at Ohio State University, was described by prosecutors as having ties to a “Thousand Talents Plan” that the U.S. says is designed to siphon intellectual property to China.

He was charged in May both with making a false statement and fraud or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, an offense punishable by as long as 10 years in prison, and was ordered in July to be held without bail pending trial. The false statement charge he pleaded guilty to carries a maximum term of five years.

The Huawei-related case is U.S. v. Mao, 19-cr-392, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). The Ohio case is U.S. v. Zheng, 20-mj-00375, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Columbus).

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(c) 2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC