A university professor funded by NASA has been arrested for allegedly keeping connections to the Chinese communist government a secret from US authorities.
The FBI arrested University of Arkansas professor Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, for allegedly defrauding NASA and the university "by failing to disclose that he held other positions at a Chinese university and Chinese companies".
An electrical engineering professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville since 1988, Mr Ang was charged with one count of wire fraud for not including his ties to China on a successful grant submission to NASA worth more than half a million dollars.
"These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang's scheme to defraud," the Department of Justice said in a statement.
In an affidavit to the US District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, unsealed on Monday, FBI special agent Jonathan Willett alleged that Mr Ang failed to report his involvement in China's Thousand Talents Scholar program between 2012 and 2018, apart from one year's disclosure in 2014.
"Talent plans integrate foreign technology into China by recruiting experts from businesses and universities across the globe to fill technical jobs that drive innovation and growth in the economy," Mr Willett wrote in the affidavit.
"Various Chinese government talent programs use financial, personal, and professional benefits in exchange for working with universities, businesses and state-owned enterprises in China."
Since 2013, Mr Ang has been either the primary investigator or co-investigator on US government-funded grant contracts totalling more than $5m from NASA, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and the Department of Defence, according to the affidavit.
It is alleged that Mr Ang committed the wire fraud in connection to a successful 2016 submission to NASA without disclosing his participation in the Thousand Talents program or work with Chinese companies, including Binzhou Maotong Electronic Technology, Binzhou Gande Electronic Technology and Jiangsu Xuanzhi New Materials and Technology.
According to the FBI affidavit, the NASA contracting officer overseeing Mr Ang's grant said that if they had of know about Mr Ang's involvement with China, they would not have awarded the contract.
"Specifically the CO [Contracting Officer] pointed out that Ang's associations with PRC companies would have been an immediate red flag," the affidavit said.
Mr Ang's alleged Chinese connections were revealed when a university employee found a hard drive in the campus library and looked through emails to find the owner.
In one 2018 email exchange between with a visiting researcher from Xidian University in Xian, China, Mr Ang said the current political climate was making his situation at the university difficult.
"You can search the Chinese website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent Scholars," Ang wrote, according to the affidavit.
"Not many people here know I am one of them but if this leaks out, my job here will be in deep troubles [sic]. I have to be very careful or else I may be out of my job from this university."
"After you read this e-mail, please delete for safety sake as any e-mail can be retrieved."
In a statement to The Independent, University of Arkansas spokesman John Thomas said Mr Ang had been suspended.
"Simon Ang has been suspended without pay from his responsibilities with the university and the university is actively cooperating with the federal investigation in this matter," Mr Thomas said.
In a College of Engineering Facebook post dating back to 2011, the university said that Mr Ang was also the honorary president of Xi'an Aeronautical Polytechnic College in Xi'an, China.
"He helped set up the first Boeing-certified aircraft maintenance engineering program in China. This program trains and certifies students to work on Boeing aircraft," the post says.
If convicted, Mr Ang faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.