U.S. charges MIT professor with grant fraud for failing to disclose Chinese ties

BOSTON (Reuters) – A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in nanotechnology research was arrested on U.S. charges that he failed to disclose his ties to the Chinese government when seeking federal grant money.

FILE PHOTO: The sign at Building 76 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Federal prosecutors in Boston on Thursday charged Gang Chen, a Chinese-born mechanical engineer and nanotechnologist, with defrauding the U.S. Department of Energy when seeking grants and failing to disclose on a foreign bank account on a tax return.

Following his arrest, the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed search warrants at his home in Cambridge and office at MIT, where he is the director of the MIT Pappalardo Micro/Nano Engineering Laboratory.

MIT said it was “deeply distressed” by the arrest of Chen, 56, a “long-serving and highly respected member of the research community.” It said it takes seriously concerns about improper influence in U.S. research.

Chen’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

The case is the latest to emerge from a U.S. Justice Department crackdown on Chinese influence within universities amid concerns about spying and intellectual property theft by the Chinese government.

Of the FBI’s 5,000 active counter-intelligence investigations, nearly half are China-related, said Joseph Bonavolonta, who oversees the agency’s Boston field office.

Prosecutors said Chen was involved in various efforts to promote China’s technological and scientific development, including acting as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government at the request of its New York consulate.

Prosecutors said he received money from various Chinese entities and helped review and assess grant applications for the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSFC), which operates similarly to U.S. grant-funding agencies.

But prosecutors said he never disclosed his work for the NNSFC or other Chinese affiliations when he applied for Energy Department grants.

Since 2013, various federal agencies have awarded more than $19 million in grants to fund Chen’s research, prosecutors said.

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