43-year-old Lin Yang seemed to have a lot going for him, having secured a position at the University of Florida as a professor/research, but now he could be facing jail time. With an indicting grand jury instruction unsealed just two days ago, it turns out the researcher didn’t disclose financial ties to the Chinese government as well as a biotech in China he actually founded. He would use the $1.75 million in federal grant money to profit back in China, reports the Department of Justice in a press release. TrialSite has reported on a number of disturbing cases where biomedical researchers visit from China and find themselves in deep trouble—are they making innocent mistakes or is this part of a broader biomedical industrial research espionage imperative?
TrialSite offers a brief breakdown of these allegations.
What are the charges form the grand jury?
Six (6) counts of wire fraud and four (4) counts of making false statements to an agency of the United States.
What is the law?
At a high level, if a researcher secures a position in the U.S. they must disclose financial ties, the potential for conflicts of interest, etc. This is triggered as well when receiving monies from the NIH for example.
What is the rationale?
Many but Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division describes the underlying rationale, stating, “Transparency about foreign funding sources allows federal agencies to allocate finite resources fairly. Transparency about foreign government affiliations, like business affiliations, allows the research community and the American people to assess any impact on the integrity of the research.”
What are some more details on the alleged actions?
The indictment states that Yang actually “…intentionally deceived both his employer and the federal government in order to obtain more than a million dollars in research funding.” The researcher made the conscious decision, according to the indictment, to not be open and transparent about his connections to not only the Chinese government but also his personal financial interests. This action serves to serve the researcher both advance strategic goals established by the Chinese government as well as pecuniary interests of the researcher.
Yang apparently was able to secure $1.75 million from the NIH to develop and disseminate an imaging informatics tool for muscles known as “MuscleMiner” during the period of September 2014 and July 2019 while he served as the principal investigator on a NIH grant at UF. As the PI, he was responsible for any material disclosures.
National Research dollars meant for national benefit
Lawrence Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, emphasized that, “The taxpayer dollars that funded Yang’s research were intended to benefit the health and well-being of U.S. citizens. But our indictment alleges that Yang engaged in acts of deliberate deception so that he could also further the research goals of the Chinese Communist government and advance his own business interests.”
Does this indicate that the U.S. doesn’t want researchers from China?
Not at all. The U.S. is an open society, based historically on immigration. The U.S. invites researchers from all over the world to come here, study and contribute to the society and themselves. But as explained by Special Agent in Charge of the FBA Jacksonville Division Rachel L. Rojas, “The United States can benefit greatly from hosting foreign researchers in our academic institutions, but this case illustrates how that collaborative environment can also be exploited.” Rojas went on comparing the Chinese government to here that they “….simply does not play by the same rules of academic integrity that we do.”
What agency is investigating the case?
The FBI Jacksonville Division and HHS-OIG investigated this case. The prosecutor for this case is U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Kunz for the Northern District of Florida with assistance from the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence & Export Section.
Is the suspect in the USA?
No, he left for China in August 2019 and hasn’t’ returned.
What are the potential penalties?
Well, for each count of wire fraud, the maximum carries a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fin. Each count of making false statements to an agency of the USA is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.