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US prosecutors recommend dropping case against MIT professor over ties to China -source

US prosecutors recommend dropping case against MIT professor over ties to China -source

Gang Chen, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, appears in this undated photo. Wen Zeng/MIT/Handout via REUTERS

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BOSTON, Jan. 14 (Reuters) – Prosecutors have recommended that the US Department of Justice drop charges against a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor accused of hiding his ties to China while seeking federal grants, one person said. who was familiar with the matter Friday.

Federal prosecutors in Boston have decided to drop the case against Chinese-born mechanical engineer and nanotechnologist Gang Chen. It was the latest blow to a crackdown on Chinese influence within US research.

Boston prosecutors in recent weeks have recommended the case’s dismissal based on new information, the person said, adding that the Justice Department has not yet made a final decision.

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He was accused of failing to disclose, among other things, that he served as an “overseas expert” for the Chinese government and served on the advisory board of Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology, or SUSTech, when he applied for an American Ministry of Energy subsidy.

But Brian Kelly, Chen’s attorney at Nixon Peabody, said last week that “nothing important was left out in his application and several of the government’s allegations were simply false.”

MIT President Rafael Reif has defended its $25 million partnership with SUSTech to further MIT’s investigative mission. Faculty in a letter last year gathered around Chen and said the case against him defamed normal investigative activities.

Kelly and co-advisor Rob Fisher had no comment Friday. MIT declined to comment. Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, had no comment on Chen’s case.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the recommendation.

Chen was charged in January 2021 as part of the department’s “China Initiative” launched during former President Donald Trump’s administration to counter alleged Chinese economic espionage and research theft.

Targets included university researchers. A Harvard professor, Charles Lieber, was convicted last month of lying about his ties to a China-run recruiting program. He is expected to appeal.

Critics say: the initiative cooled academic research and targeted Chinese researchers through racial profiling. And despite Harvard’s win, several other cases have failed.

A Tennessee professor was acquitted by a judge last year after a mistrial, and prosecutors dropped charges against six other investigators.

The administration of President Joe Biden has continued the initiative, although Hornbuckle said the Justice Department is reviewing its approach, a review to be completed in the coming weeks.

Rachael Rollins, the newly appointed U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, would not comment on whether prosecutors should stop filing China Initiative cases during a meeting with reporters on Thursday.

But she said that “the government will always look to prove our case on various counts.”

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio

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