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MIT Professor Who Received $19M in Federal Grants Arrested for Concealing Ties to China

People stand in front of Building 10 behind Killian Court at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., November 21, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and researcher who has received almost $20 million from the Department of Energy was arrested Thursday after he allegedly failed to disclose ties to the People’s Republic of China.

Mechanical engineering professor Gang Chen faces charges of wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report, and making a false statement in a tax return, the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston revealed Thursday.

Prosecutors allege the 56-year-old professor, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, has held a number of positions on behalf of the PRC with the goal of promoting China’s technological and scientific capabilities. 

They claim he shared his expertise directly with Chinese government officials “often in exchange for financial compensation,” including serving as an “overseas expert” at the request of the Chinese consulate in New York and a member of at least two PRC Talent Programs.

The Department of Energy has given Chen $19 million for research since 2013. 

When Chen applied for and received a DOE grant to fund his research he failed to disclose that from at least 2017 to 2019 he served in several advisory roles for the PRC and PRC entities as required by the DOE, prosecutors said.

In July 2019, Chen was quoted in Nature magazine as being critical of the U.S. government’s increased scrutiny of researchers with ties to China.

“The current atmosphere creates a lot of psychological fear,” he told Nature, adding that he had canceled plans to take a sabbatical to the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in China — which has reportedly also provided him with $19 million in funding — for fear it would create suspicion that he was sharing intellectual property with colleagues in China.

Chen allegedly received roughly $29 million in foreign funding since 2013, including the funds from SUSTech.

MIT spokeswoman Kimberly Allen said in a statement to the Daily Caller that the university is “deeply distressed” over Chen’s arrest.

“MIT believes the integrity of research is a fundamental responsibility, and we take seriously concerns about improper influence in U.S. research,” Allen said. “Prof. Chen is a long-serving and highly respected member of the research community, which makes the government’s allegations against him all the more distressing.”

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