Another blow to the China Initiative was the fact that the prosecutor’s office closed the high-profile case.

A year later, Chen was arrested on suspicion of federal grant fraud and publicly charged with disloyalty to the United States — a charge that is usually brought in cases of espionage, not grant fraud, Chen’s defense team said in a statement. try formally sanction the U.S. Attorney’s Office for this statement. Chen was ultimately charged with three counts of wire fraud, false statements, and failure to report a foreign bank account.

But the crux of the matter was whether the nanotechnologist disclosed contracts, appointments, and awards from organizations in the People’s Republic of China, including the China Talent Program and more than $19 million in funding from the Chinese government, while receiving federal grants from the Department of Energy.

This issue became less important when in 2017 a representative of the Department of Energy confirmed the need for a grant, when Chen presented his application did not require him to disclose positions in China, but that disclosure would not affect his grants, according to the Wall Street Journal. first reported.

The money at the heart of the fraud allegations – $25 million – was intended for MIT to support a new joint research facility at China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, not Chen personally. “While Professor Chen is MIT’s first faculty director, this is not an individual collaboration; this is a departmental project supported by the Institute,” explained Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. letter to the MIT community last year.

Chen’s case, as one of the most prominent scientists charged with this initiative, has attracted wide attention. MIT faculty wrote open letter the scholar’s support, which also reflected the broader concerns of the academic community about the criminalization of standard academic activities. “In many ways, a complaint against Gan Chen is a complaint against all of us, an insult to any citizen who values ​​science and the scientific enterprise,” they wrote.

What’s next?

With Chen’s charges almost certain to be dropped, six more research integrity cases remain pending. Four are due to appear in court this spring. Meanwhile, a growing number of disparate groups, from scientific associations, human rights organizations, legislators and even former officials who participated in the formation of the program called for either an end to the program, or at least the persecution of scientists.

The Justice Department is “revisiting our approach to dealing with threats from the Chinese government,” Department spokesman Win Hornbuckle said. MIT Technology Overview in an email. “We look forward to completing the review and providing additional information in the coming weeks.” He directed questions about the Chen case to the US Attorney’s Office in Boston, which has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, on January 4, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released updated guide on strengthening the protection of US research and development from foreign interference, including additional information on disclosure requirements for principal investigators.

As for Chen, “he is looking forward to the speedy resolution of the criminal case,” his lawyer Robert Fisher told MIT Technology Review.

Additional report by Jess Aloe.

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