Two New Arrests Highlight Need for Portman Legislation to Hold China Accountable For Stealing US Taxpayer-Funded Research

May 14, 2020 | Portman Difference

Senator Portman has repeatedly called for China to be held accountable for the rampant theft of U.S. intellectual property at federally funded research institutions and universities. Portman, as chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, conducted an eight-month investigation last year that culminated in a stunning bipartisan report that documented how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s economy and military over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Portman will soon introduce bipartisan legislation to protect American research and IP from global competitors. 

Recently, the Department of Justice announced the arrests of two academics affiliated with American universities in fraud cases that underscore the findings of the PSI report and highlight the need for action. 

First, on Friday, former Emory University professor Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li pled guilty to falsifying his tax returns to conceal his work for the Chinese government. Dr. Li, a participant in China’s Thousand Talents Program, worked simultaneously for six years for both Emory and overseas for Chinese universities affiliated with the Communist Party of China, conducting similar research projects at both institutions. Despite this, Dr. Li. failed to report any of his at least $500,000 in foreign income on his federal tax returns. 

That same day, Dr. Simon Saw-Teong Ang of the University of Arkansas was arrested on charges of wire fraud for allegedly failing to disclose his ties to the Chinese government despite being required to do so as a recipient of grant money from NASA. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. 

Dr. James Lewis, a former West Virginia University professor, also recently pled guilty to fraud due to his membership in the Thousand Talents Plan.  The Justice Department found that “Lewis defrauded a public university into giving him leave, so that he could satisfy his competing obligations to a Chinese institution, which he hid from the school.” 

These cases come on the heels of the shocking arrest in January of Dr. Charles Lieber, who was the chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry Department. Dr. Lieber was found to have been paid by both Harvard and the Thousand Talents Program without Harvard's knowledge. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Dr. Lieber was paid up to $50,000 a month in salary, $150,000 annually for living expenses and more than $1.5 million to establish and run a shadow lab in China. None of this was disclosed on his federal grant applications, meaning that Dr. Lieber was essentially defrauding Harvard and the U.S. government funding sources. 

This string of arrests underscores the urgency of passing new bipartisan legislation that Senator Portman will soon introduce to promote greater transparency within our federally funded research enterprise.