Mistrial declared in case of US-based scientist charged with hiding ties to China

WASHINGTON: A US judge has declared a mistrial in the trial of a former University of Tennessee scientist, who was accused of hiding his work in China to defraud NASA.
Hu Anming, 52, was an engineering professor at Tennessee University, was indicted in February 2020 on three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
It was the first non-espionage case to go under trial under the “China Initiative”.
The initiative was started by the US Department of Justice in 2018 to investigate and persecute trade secret theft and economic espionage activities that are considered national security threats.
According to SCMP, this initiative was a part of US authorities crackdown against Chinese professor and researchers for their work with Chinese schools and institution.
A federal judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial after the jury was deadlocked over whether Hu had hidden his work in China.
The agency began its investigation against Hu and his family in 2018.
Federal prosecutors contended that Hu, who had worked at UT’s department of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering since 2013, had intentionally hidden his relationship with the Peking University of Technology in grant applications he had made to Nasa; that would violate a 2011 law that bars Nasa from paying for any research that involved “participation, collaboration or coordination” with “China or a Chinese-owned corporation”.
His trial began on June 7 and was sent to a jury on Monday. The defence also made a motion asking Judge Varlan to acquit Hu.
The US Department of Justice will now have to decide whether to pursue the case against Hu further.
Rachelle Barnes, the spokeswoman for the office of the US Attorney of the Eastern District of Tennessee, declined to comment.
Marc Raimondi, a DOJ spokesman, said it was “evaluating our options” concerning whether to continue the case. He added that the department “will continue following the facts and evidence and bring cases accordingly” when it comes to “investigations into criminal malfeasance with a nexus to the People’s Republic of China.”
During the trial, Hu’s defence lawyer Philip Lomonaco said that the department “wanted a feather in its cap with an economic espionage case, so they ignored the facts and the law, destroyed the career of a professor with three PhDs in nanotechnology and now expects the court to follow their narrative”.
Since 2018, the department has brought dozens of cases under the “China Initiative”. In April, Qin Shuren, a 44-year-old Chinese national pleaded guilty to illegally exporting US marine technology to Northwestern Polytechnical University, a Chinese college that the Department of Justice said is heavily involved in military research.

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