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Justice Dept.: Ohio State researcher shared work with China

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An Ohio medical researcher and professor is facing federal charges for what prosecutors say is a sophisticated scheme to transfer U.S.-supported research to China

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JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press

July 10, 2020 at 4:47 pm

3 min reading

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A medical researcher and professor who most recently worked at Ohio State University is facing federal charges in what prosecutors say is a sophisticated scheme to transfer US-supported research to China.

Song Guo Zheng, 57, from the Hilliard suburb, and his research groups raised more than $ 4.3 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health for projects, by receiving overlapping funds from China’s National Natural Science Foundation from according to an unsealed criminal complaint Thursday in Columbus.

Zheng worked in the rheumatology and immunology division at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center. When he was hired last year, the university described him as “a nationally and internally renowned researcher” known as an enthusiastic pioneer in his field.

Prosecutors now say Zheng was involved in a “sophisticated medical grant fraud scheme” involving the transfer of paid research with US grant funds to China. He faces a criminal count of fraud or bribery for programs that receive federal funds, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, and a count of making false statements for failing to disclose his foreign affiliations to the authorities, which take up to five years.

Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers ordered Zheng to remain on bail because he is at risk of escape. The case will be presented to a grand federal jury for possible prosecution. The investigation continues.

Federal agents arrested Zheng in Alaska in May when they say he was trying to board a private flight to China. He initially told investigators that he was “going home”, then changing his story to say he was just planning a visit to see his sick father. The documents say he had “three large bags packed for a long, if not permanent, journey,” including one full of two laptops, several USB drives and silver bars.

“We claim that Zheng was preparing to flee the country after he learned that his employer had initiated an administrative proceeding to determine whether or not he was complying with the rules governing taxpayer-funded subsidies,” said lawyer David M. DeVillers in a statement. .

A testimony filed with the complaint alleges that Zheng has participated since 2013 in a Chinese Talent Plan, a program established by the Chinese government to recruit people with knowledge or access to foreign technology intellectual property.

FBI Cincinnati Special Agent Chris Hoffman said US taxpayers “are the real victims” when researchers defraud the government on behalf of a rival country.

“The cutting edge technologies that are being developed in our country must be carefully protected against our foreign adversaries and the FBI will continue to work with our partners to safeguard these important innovations,” said Hoffman in a statement.

Before moving to Ohio, Zheng worked at the University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University, according to the complaint.

Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said Zheng is currently on unpaid leave and the university has started the termination process.

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