A researcher who led a cardiovascular program for the Cleveland Clinic in the US has been arrested by the FBI as part of its campaign targeting individuals with research links to China’s universities.
Dr Qing Wang who had worked with Dr Eric Topol on the Cleveland Clinic’s GeneBank program to investigate factors in premature familial coronary disease, was arrested on May 13 on charges of failing to declare his work China while in receipt of a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
According to the FBI, Dr Wang had failed to disclose to NIH that he had participated in China’s 1000 Talents Program and received $3 million in research grants from the Chinese government for work at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), covering some of the same scientific research as funded by the NIH grant.
According to the FBI, Dr Wang also failed to disclose to NIH that he held the position of dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the university in China. This led to ‘overlap’ of research funding, which is prohibited under the terms of NIH research funding arrangements. The complaint against Dr Wang alleges that he accepted free travel and accomodation for his trips to work on research projects in China.
“As this case demonstrates, Chinese government-supported talent plans continue to encourage people, regardless of nationality, to commit crimes, such as fraud to obtain US taxpayer-funded research,” said Robert R. Wells, acting assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
US Attorney Justin Herdman said the case should act as a warning to researchers who accept funding from China or work with Chinese institutions while also receiving research funding grants from the NIH
“Federal law enforcement remains vigilant to fraudulent claims for grant support from any researcher who fails to disclose support from foreign governments and competing research interests in other countries,” he said.
“We appreciate the cooperation of this defendant’s former employer, the Cleveland Clinic, in the investigation and highlight the important partnerships between federal agencies, law enforcement, and the private sector demonstrated in this case.”
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Dr Wang had been working with gene banks to study families with mutations in genes such as MEF2A, and how this is related to the incidence of atherosclerosis and the severity of coronary heart disease.
But the FBI claims that cases such as Dr Wang’s are part of an aggressive campaign of research espionage to usurp US leadership in science and technology.
“These talent recruitment and ‘brain gain’ programs (as some in China call them) also encourage theft of intellectual property from US institutions,” said Bill Priestap, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
“For example, China’s talent recruitment plans, such as the Thousand Talents Program, offer competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities, and honorific titles, luring both Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts alike to bring their knowledge and experience to China, even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating export controls to do so.”