Emory prof admits to Chinese spy ring involvement

A former professor at Emory University and member of the Chinese “Thousand Talents” Program pleaded guilty for failing to disclose over $500,000 in foreign income.

The professor was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay restitution.

A former professor at Emory University pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns by failing to disclose $500,000 in income from Chinese sources.

The professor, Xiao-Jiang Li, worked at two Chinese universities as part of China’s Thousand Talents Program, according to the Department of Justice. Li was ordered to pay $35,089 in restitution and sentenced to one-year probation. 

Court findings revealed that in 2012, while still working at Emory, Li began working for the Thousand Talents Program and continued to work for the program until 2018. During this time period, Li worked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and at Jinan University, where he reportedly conducted animal research. Li’s tax fraud was discovered when the National Institutes of Health examined his applications for research grants. 

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“This defendant thought that he could live two, separate lives — one here at Emory University and one in China as a Thousand Talents Program participant,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said. 

The Assistant Acting Director for the FBI”s Counterintelligence Division added that the bureau was committed to investigating further crimes linked to the Chinese government’s talent recruitment initiatives. 

“As this case demonstrates, the FBI is committed to working with our partners to prevent individuals from utilizing the Chinese Government’s talent plan programs to commit fraud against the United States government and our universities,” Acting Assistant Director Wells said. 

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The Chinese Thousand Talents Program has faced accusations of espionage and theft from United States intelligence agencies. According to the FBI, the program is one of many talent recruitment initiatives that “encourage[s] theft of intellectual property from U.S. institutions.”  

Additionally, a 2019 report by a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee accused China of seeking to “exploit America’s openness” for China’s own interest by using the Thousand Talents Program. 

“Launched in 2008, the Thousand Talents Plan incentivizes individuals engaged in research and development in the United States to transmit the knowledge and research they gain here to China in exchange for salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives,” the report states. “China unfairly uses the American research and expertise it obtains for its own economic and military gain. In recent years, federal agencies have discovered talent recruitment plan members who downloaded sensitive electronic research files before leaving to return to China, submitted false information when applying for grant funds, and willfully failed to disclose receiving money from the Chinese government on U.S. grant applications.”

Campus Reform previously reported on Li’s case earlier this year. 

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