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UTK researcher arrested, accused of lying to NASA about ties to a Chinese university

Photo by Allen Forrest via Flickr Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Views From The Edge

By Ed Diokno

A Chinese American associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) was arrested on Feb. 27 on federal charges he defrauded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by hiding his dual employment with a Chinese university, authorities said.

Photo of Anming Hu via Research Gate

Anming Hu, a researcher in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering on a federal indictment and charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements.

“Hu allegedly committed fraud by hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving funding from NASA,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

The indictment alleges that beginning in 2016, Hu took part in a scheme to defraud the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by concealing his affiliation with Beijing University of Technology (BJUT), a university in China. 

NASA is restricted from funding any activity that cooperates or collaborates with the Chinese government or Chinese companies, including Chinese universities.

As alleged in the indictment, Hu’s false representations and omissions to UTK about his affiliation with BJUT caused UTK to falsely certify to NASA that UTK was in compliance with this federal law. 

If convicted, Hu faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each of the wire fraud counts, and up to five years in prison on each of the false statement counts.

“The University of Tennessee has suspended Associate Professor Anming Hu, who was indicted by federal authorities on felony charges,” UT spokesman Owen Driskill wrote in a statement to Knox News.

“UT officials have cooperated with federal authorities during the investigation,” he added. “University leadership is fully committed to adherence to grant procedures and the protection of intellectual property.”

Hu appeared in federal court Thursday and was appointed a public defender. A detention hearing has been scheduled for March 3.

Hu’s arrest appears to be part of a broader DOJ strategy against Chinese attempts to obtain US technology by compromising Chinese and Chinese American scientists, researchers and educators, a concern also driving trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Earlier this month, Rep. Judy Chu, the Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), and Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent letters to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking information related to news reports that these institutions are targeting Chinese American scientists as potential spies.

“While there are undoubtedly authentic and legitimate cases of espionage that should be investigated, these reports have created serious concern that innocent people are being swept up in this initiative,” Chu and Raskin wrote.

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