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MIT professor secretly worked for China, DOJ says – here’s what he did

Chinese flag, Beijing, China. (Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)
January 15, 2021

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was arrested Thursday at his Cambridge, Mass. home and charged with grant fraud after allegedly working for China’s technology collection program in secret.  

Gang Chen, 56, accepted payments from the Chinese government and failed to disclose those payments to the Energy Department, a requirement with federal government contracts, a statement from the Department of Justice read.

A naturalized U.S. citizen from China, Mr. Chen is director of MIT’s Pappalardo Micro/Nano Engineering Laboratory and the institute’s Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center. Nano-technology and solar power technology are targets for the Chinese government’s foreign collection efforts.

“Since approximately 2013, Chen’s research at MIT has been funded by more than $19 million in grants awarded by various U.S. federal agencies,” the Justice Department said.

Gang Chen has also been a talent scout for Chinese recruiters, even recommending a number of students to participate in gathering technology for the Communist country.

According to federal prosecutors, Mr. Chen has worked for the Chinese government as an “overseas expert” since 2012, specifically involved in activities “designed to promote the [People’s Republic of China’s] technological and scientific development by providing advice and expertise – sometimes directly to PRC government officials – and often in exchange for financial compensation.”

“Since 2013, Chen allegedly received approximately $29 million of foreign funding, including $19 million from the PRC’s Southern University of Science and Technology,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

“Chen also allegedly failed to disclose to the IRS in his 2018 tax return that he maintained a bank account in the PRC with more than $10,000 in 2018,” the DOJ stated.

Mr. Chen coordinated with Chinese officials at the consulate in New York in connection with China’s “talent” programs looking to compensate experts for technology.

According to an email Mr. Chen sent to himself in 2016, the Chinese-American promised to “promote Chinese collaboration” as part of a larger effort to improve China’s technological and scientific innovation.

Joseph R. Bonavolonta, an FBI Special Agent in Charge, said at a Thursday press conference, “It has become much too commonplace that the ruling Communist Party of China thinks it can conduct illegal activity, and bend people here in the United States to its will, in order to try and surpass our country as the world’s leading superpower.”

Mr. Bonavolonta said the FBI opens a new Chinese-connected investigation every 10 hours, adding that almost half of the 5,000 active counterspy cases include China.