SACRAMENTO, CA- CBS 13 in Sacramento, Calif., is reporting that federal prosecutors are dropping charges against a Chinese researcher who had been accused of concealing her ties to the Chinese military on her work visa application to work in the U.S.
Prosecutors filed documentation in federal court in Sacramento seeking to dismiss a charge of Visa fraud against Juan Tang, however, didn’t explain why they were seeing to do so.
Tang’s trial was set to begin Monday. The outlet said they reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Sacramento office for comment, however the request wasn’t answered.
However according to Tang’s attorneys in a statement to the Sacramento Bee, they told the outlet they believed the had provided “ample reason” for the dismissal of charges against the Chinese national.
“We hope Dr. Tang is allowed to return to her daughter and husband on her own,” said attorneys Malcolm Segal and Tom Johnson in a statement.
Last July the Department of Justice announced charges against Tang and three other scientists, alleging they lied about their status as members of the People’s Liberation Army of China.
According to prosecutors, Tang lied about her military ties in a visa application last year as she was planning to work at the University of California-Davis and once again during an FBI interview several months later. Agents discovered photos of Tang dressed in a military uniform, and also reviewed articles from China which identified her military service.
According to Inside Higher Ed, Tang is one of five Chinese researchers who were accused of lying on their visa applications, all of whom the Department of Justice has since decided not to prosecute.
The five were among a number of Chinese nationals, either scholars or students prosecuted under the DOJ’s “China Initiative.” The initiative was started under the Trump administration with the goal of investigating allegations of economic espionage and trade secret theft.
The five were accused of allegedly lying about Chinese affiliations or funding on a number of federal forms, including grant applications, visa applications and/or tax forms.
In addressing the China Initiative, federal prosecutors had noted it was an important component in focusing on the size and scope of the communist Chinese government’s role in accessing American technology.
Critics of the program have, however raised concerns about racial bias and also noted many of the cases do not involve allegations involving intellectual property theft or espionage-related crimes, but rather are focused on allegations of fraud.
The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the dismissals of the five cases and citing a senior Justice Department official said the crimes the five were accused of committing were punishable only by a few months in prison, and that all the defendants had been detained or placed under restrictions since their arrests around a year ago. The prosecutors decided their restrictions over the past year were tantamount to sufficient punishment and deterrence.
According to the federal government, some 1,000 researchers affiliated with the Chinese military left the U.S. shortly after the charges were announced last summer, the Journal reported.
A DOJ spokesman, Wyn Hornbuckle told the Journal that “recent developments” in the cases made the DOJ to reconsider the prosecutions.
“We have determined that it is now in the interest of justice to dismiss them,” Hornbuckle said. He noted the department “continues to place a very high priority on countering the threat posed to American research security and academic by the [People’s Republic of China] government’s agenda and policies.”
In the case of Tang, U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez previously dismissed a charge that he (Tang) had lied to federal agents and granted a motion to suppress statements she made during a June 20, 2020, interview with feds. Mendez ruled that FBI agents erred in failing to inform Tang of her right no to speak to them or answer questions.
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In addition to the charge stemming from the interview, the DOJ alleged she had lied when she answered “no” to the question of, “Have you ever served in the military?”
The FBI was able to find numerous sources in internet searches which tied Tang into the Air Force Medical University in China, including one where she appeared in a picture dressed in what appeared to be a Chinese military uniform.
The criminal complaint also alleged that the email address and phone numbers on her visa application were linked to the Air Force Military Medical University/Fourth Military Medical University.
In citing their opposition to the charges, Tang’s lawyers argued that the questions about military service on the visa application was “fundamentally ambiguous as to whether the term could mean full-time active-duty service, refers to any uniformed service, or even includes military employment in a wholly civilian capacity.”
The attorneys argued Tang had a civilian affiliation with military institutions and noted she had been up front about those ties.
“To the extent the government claims that she intentionally did not disclose her affiliation with the military, they are wrong,” Tang’s lawyers argued in a brief last week.
“The evidence will show that she clearly disclosed her educational and professional background to U.C. Davis by providing the program with substantial information, concerning her work at the Fourth Military Medial University (FMMU) as a cancer researcher, so that the program could certify her to the Department of State, although they knew that background already, including her publications which clearly disclosed and referenced her work at the FMMU and the FMMU (now the Air Force) hospital.”
The FBI actually had concluded in a report written by two FBI analysts who admitted the question about military service on the visa application “potentially lacks clarity when it comes to declaring one’s military service or affiliation.”
They also noted that “some intentional obfuscation is almost certainly being used by the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] to gain entry into the U.S., there are grey areas where it is difficult for the FBI and DOS [Department of State] to determine whether obfuscation is intentional or for nefarious tech transfer purposes.”
The report also admitted that “a significant number of doctors and nurses and other professionals that at times are required to wear a military type uniform, but who would not necessarily consider themselves soldiers despite being considered as active duty.”
The analysts’’ report on the visa fraud arrests, partially redacted also notes that ‘although there have been five arrests and one wanted scholar who remains at large as a result of this effort, only two of these six have had legal connections to technology transfer.”
The other four Chinese scholars who had their cases dropped include Guan Lei, a visiting researcher in mathematics at UCLA, Zhao Kaikai, a Ph.D. student studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at Indiana University, Bloomington, Chen Song, a visiting researcher in a neurological research lab at Stanford, and Xin Wang, a visiting scholar in medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Last month, a mistrial was declared in another China Initiative-related case, the first one to go to trial.
Jurors deadlocked in the case involving Anming Hu, a former professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville who stood accused of lying about ties to a Chinese university on grant applications to NASA. The judge in that case has ordered the DOJ to provide a status update if they plan to retry Hu this week.
After the mistrial, three far-left Democratic members of Congress—Ted Lieu (CA), Mondaire Jones (NY), and Pramila Jaypal (WA) wrote to the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General asking to determine if racial profiling occurred in the case and whether there was “an adequate non-racial or non-ethnic factual predicate to open this investigation.”
Some civil rights and Chinese American groups have called on the US government to end the China Initiative.
According to Gisela Perez Kusakawa with the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights organization, said the group had analyzed 83 DOJ press releases tied to the China Initiative and found that almost “90 percent of the defendants are of Asian descent and roughly 48 percent of the cases include no charge of economic espionage, trade secrets theft, or what we at AAJC have identified as espionage-related crimes.
“We believe that the U.S. government has at times overreached under the China Initiative and is surveilling, targeting and over criminalizing scientists of Asian descent,” she said.
“We are concerned that essentially prosecutors are looking through grant applications, immigration applications, and scientific publications for evidence of contact with China and then [searching] for wrongdoing. Based on the U.S. Constitution, they should at have at least a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before launching an investigation.”
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Author: Pat Droney
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