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Federal charges dropped against PhD student accused of spying for Chinese government

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

Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against a former Indiana University doctoral student who was accused of spying for the Chinese government.

The U.S. attorney for Indiana’s southern district alleged Zhao Kaikai lied on his 2018 visa application to enter the United States and study at IU. Zhao, who is no longer listed as an IU student, was pursuing a doctorate in informatics and studying artificial intelligence.

Arrested in July 2020, Zhao was indicted on charges of lying on his visa and for lying to federal investigators about his service in the Chinese military. A day prior to his arrest, federal agents observed Zhao meeting with officials from the Chinese consulate in Chicago at a Bloomington park. Investigators suggested Zhao was part of Chinese government efforts to funnel intellectual property and technology from American universities to China.

Zhao is one of a group of Chinese researchers whose charges were dropped by the Department of Justice. In a statement, Wyn Hornbuckle, DOJ deputy director of public affairs, said, “Recent developments in a handful of cases involving defendants with alleged, undisclosed ties to the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China … have prompted the Department to re-evaluate these prosecutions, and we have determined that it is now in the interest of justice to dismiss them.”

Zhao’s attorney, Bradley Banks, from the Indianapolis law firm Banks & Brower, confirmed his client’s charges were dropped. However, according to Banks, unlike the other Chinese researchers who have returned home, Zhao remained in federal custody in Kentucky as of July 27 and is still on an immigration hold. Zhao has been in custody since his arrest 12 months ago.

According to Hornbuckle, the Department of Justice continues to prioritize threats to American research and academic institutions from the Chinese government.


(c) 2021 the Herald-Times

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