BOSTON (CBS) – An MIT professor was charged Thursday with millions of dollars in grant fraud for allegedly hiding his relationship with China. Gang Chen, 56, was arrested at his home in Cambridge and search warrants were executed at his house and office.
The FBI in Boston said Chen failed to disclose his work with China to the U.S. Department of Energy when he applied for millions of dollars in grants.
"Our investigation found Chen was working with the Chinese communist government in various capacities dating back to 2012 at our country's expense," Joseph Bonavolonta, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Boston, said at a news conference in Boston, announcing the charges.
Bonavolonta said Chen knowingly defrauded taxpayers out of at least $19 million in grants to enhance China's research in nanotechnology.
"In applying for these scarce federal grants, we alleged Chen failed to disclose that he was acting as an overseas expert on science and technology for the Chinese communist government after China's consulate office in New York asked him to provide expertise and advice in exchange for financial compensation and awards," Bonavolonta said.
Investigators said Chen has accepted about $29 million in foreign funding, primarily through China, and received at least $355,000 for his "services and expertise" and never disclosed it to MIT or the U.S. government.
Chen is from China but is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
MIT released a statement saying it was "deeply distressed" by Chen's arrest.
"MIT believes the integrity of research is a fundamental responsibility, and we take seriously concerns about improper influence in U.S. research. Prof. Chen is a long-serving and highly respected member of the research community, which makes the government's allegations against him all the more distressing. We are not able to offer any further information related to the government's complaint at this time," spokesperson Kimberly Allen said.
Chen is due in federal court in Boston Thursday afternoon.
Last year, Harvard chemistry professor Charles Lieber was charged by federal investigators with lying about his ties to China.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said Thursday there's no evidence that Lieber and Chen are connected, even though both are involved in nanotechnology.
Lelling told reporters the Chinese government has identified nanotechnology as one of its strategic gaps and they want to fill those gaps "without developing the technology themselves, they'd rather get it from other countries."
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