Three New York University scientists were charged Monday in connection with a conspiracy to accept payments from competing research entities in China in exchange for providing proprietary information about research funded by a National Institutes of Health grant. The three researchers, who were studying MRI technology, allegedly maintained undisclosed financial affiliations with United Imaging Healthcare, a Chinese medical imaging company, and the Shenzen Institute of Advanced Technology, a Chinese government-sponsored research institute.
“As alleged, this is a case of inviting and paying for foxes in the henhouse,” Preet Bharara, a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a press release. “These defendants allegedly colluded with representatives from a Chinese governmental entity and a direct competitor of the university for which they worked to illegally acquire NIH-funded research for the benefit of those entities, as described in the complaint. The defendants also allegedly deceived the university and others about their professional allegiances to competing Chinese interests. The acquisition of federally funded research for the benefit of these Chinese entities is a serious crime and will not be tolerated by this office.”
Yudong Zhu, Xing Yang, and Ye Li are each charged with one count of criminal bribery conspiracy. Zhu is also charged with one count of falsification of records in regards to the NIH grant. Zhu and Yang have been released on bail, as Reuters reported, but Li is believed to have returned to China before charges were brought. As Reuters noted in its report, the case against the three researchers comes at a time when there is increased concern about Chinese theft of U.S. trade secrets.