Updated, Jan. 20, 2022: Government drops all charges.
An MIT professor who specializes in energy-related nanotechnology was arrested today to face federal charges that he hid contracts and grants awarded by Chinese universities and agencies from both the federal government and MIT.
The US Attorney's office reports that Gang Chen, a professor of power engineering and director of MIT's Pappalardo Micro and Nano Engineering Laboratories and Solid-State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center, was formally charged with wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report and making a false statement in a tax return, which have cumulative penalties that could include more than 20 years in prison.
Federal court documents do not make any national-security allegations, but rather allege that Chen evaded federal requirements to disclose financial interests and research work that might cause a conflict of interest or take time away from the work for which he has received $19 million in US-government research grants since 2013.
Chen's case is somewhat similar to that of Harvard professor Charles Lieber, also charged with not disclosing his earnings from a Chinese university on federal grant applications.
According to the US Attorney's office in Boston:
Since 2012, Chen has allegedly held various appointments with the PRC designed to promote the PRC’s technological and scientific development by providing advice and expertise – sometimes directly to PRC government officials – and often in exchange for financial compensation. This includes acting as an “overseas expert” for the PRC government at the request of the PRC Consulate Office in New York and serving as a member of at least two PRC Talent Programs. Since 2013, Chen allegedly received approximately $29 million of foreign funding, including $19 million from the PRC’s Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech).
An affidavit by a Homeland Security agent who worked on the case cites an example of work Chen did in 2017 for two efforts by Chinese entities to attract researchers to two Chinese cities and his role as an advisor to a foreign-language school in China, the latter of which could have earned him up to $350,000, none of which he included in financial-disclosure forms filed with US federal agencies or MIT.
Had CHEN disclosed complete and accurate information about his PRC contracts, awards, activities, or compensation, I believe [the Department of Energy] would not have continued to fund award [a grant Chen had won]. Alternatively, had CHEN disclosed this information, I believe DOE would have inquired further to ensure that CHEN’s work for the PRC government and his other PRC affiliations did not pose a significant conflict of interest, a conflict of commitment, or other impediment to his DOE-funded work.
Chen is also charged with failing to disclose a Chinese bank account with the equivalent of about $10,000 in it on any of his financial-disclosure forms.