University of Tennessee professor arrested for hiding connections with China

Last month a professor at Harvard University was arrested for failing to disclose that he’d been receiving $50,000 per month from China. Dr. Charles Lieber had been recruited by something called the Thousand Talents Plan which pays foreign experts to share their knowledge at Chinese universities. However, professors are not allowed to accept research grants from federal agencies while also teaching in China. Lieber allegedly hid his China connections when applying for grants from the National Institutes of Health. Today, a professor in Tennessee has been charged for hiding similar connections to China:

Anming Hu, an associate professor in the department of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering at the university’s flagship Knoxville campus, was charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements…

Prosecutors say Hu defrauded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by failing to disclose the fact that he was also a professor at the Beijing University of Technology in China. Under federal law, NASA cannot fund or give grant money to Chinese-owned companies or universities.

According to the indictment, as the University of Tennessee last December was preparing a proposal on Hu’s behalf for a NASA-funded project, Hu provided false assurances to the school that he was not part of any business collaboration involving China.

Knox News reports that Hu was hired by UT in 2013, having left his association with the Chinese university off his CV.

In the resumé he submitted with his application, Hu failed to mention he worked at the Beijing University of Technology’s Institute of Laser Engineering, according to a federal indictment. He also didn’t disclose the position when he applied for tenure.

In the years after being hired at UT, Hu continued to work with the Beijing university. Between March 2015 and January 2020, the indictment states, Hu was listed as an author or co-author on at least six published researched papers that identified him as being affiliated with the Beijing university. Between September 2015 and December 2018, he was identified as the inventor on 12 patent applications filed in China.

As I pointed out last month, in addition to Dr. Lieber at least two other professors have been arrested under similar circumstances, one from the University of Kansas and one at Emory University.

China’s interest in hiring US professors to share their expertise is self-evident. What’s less clear to me is why these professors agreed to be involved. The fact that all of these professors appear to be intentionally deceiving US agencies suggests they knew what they were doing was illegal. Obviously being offered $50,000 per month is a pretty big incentive to risk breaking the law, but is this just about individuals looking for cash or is there more to it? I can’t help wondering if there is an ideological component to this but I don’t see any clear indications of that in the reporting.