KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A University of Tennessee professor charged with hiding his relationship with a Chinese university to get research grants from a federal agency filed multiple reports with the school detailing his ties, according to court testimony.
Anming Hu is standing trial this week in Knoxville. He's accused of intentionally hiding his ties to a Chinese university so he could get grant funding from NASA.
According to testimony Tuesday, Hu filed reports at the university listing his work with Chinese students and links to research papers listing his status as a professor at both UT and the Beijing University of Technology in China, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Officials at the University of Tennessee also assured NASA that none of its faculty members were in violation of the federal law that prevents it from funding or giving grant money Chinese-owned companies or universities.
Hu was charged in February 2020 with wire fraud and making false statements. According to his indictment, as the University of Tennessee was preparing a proposal on Hu’s behalf for a NASA-funded project, Hu provided false assurances to the school that he was not part of any business collaboration involving China.
The charges are part of a broader Justice Department crackdown against university researchers who conceal their ties to Chinese institutions. The so-called China Initiative was launched in 2018 by President Donald Trump’s administration to identify priority trade secret cases and focus resources on them.
Federal officials have asserted that Beijing is intent on stealing intellectual property from America’s colleges and universities, and have actively been warning schools to be on alert against espionage attempts. Hu is not charged with espionage.
UT Provost John Zomchick testified Tuesday that he had personally reviewed information submitted by Hu that included several reference letters citing the professor's work with Chinese students and Chinese researchers and his affiliation with the Beijing university.
Zomchick said Hu’s conflict of interest documents were not reviewed by the university before they were submitted to NASA. UT approved the proposal and included routine paperwork that said the federal law didn't apply to its faculty and staff.
Defense attorney Philip Lomonaco showed through cross-examination of university officials that Hu included a letter detailing “long-term collaboration” with a Chinese researcher in a 2016 NASA grant proposal.
“Anming Hu is disclosing his affiliation and collaboration,” Lomonaco said in cross-examination. “Why would he do that if he’s trying to hide his collaboration?”
Lomonaco said in his cross-examination of lead NASA investigator Lee Gibson that Hu was never asked on the conflict of interest forms if he had ties to a Chinese university. He said the law restricts grant funding for any project involving “China or a Chinese-owned corporation."
“(Hu) isn’t China, is he?” Lomonaco asked. “He isn’t a Chinese-owned corporation, is he? Your department decided to say Chinese universities should be included … didn’t it?”
Gibson responded, “It’s NASA’s job how it wants to abide by the law.”