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Prosecutors to Retry Case Amid Concerns About China Initiative

August 2, 2021
 
 

Federal prosecutors said Friday they intend to retry Anming Hu, a former associate engineering professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, accused of concealing his affiliation with a Chinese university when he applied for grant funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Hu’s first trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial in June. Hu is one of about a dozen university researchers who have faced fraud-related charges for allegedly lying about Chinese funding or affiliations on federal forms under the auspices of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, which was launched under the Trump administration to combat economic espionage and trade secret theft.

Earlier this month, the government dropped charges against five visiting scholars or students who’d been accused of lying about affiliations with the Chinese military on visa applications.

Civil rights groups and Chinese American scientific groups have called on the government to end the China Initiative, raising concerns about racial profiling and the targeting of Asian American and Asian immigrant scientists.

On Thursday, about 90 members of Congress sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to investigate alleged racial profiling of Asians and seeking information about the China Initiative specifically.

The letter raises concerns about “reports of alleged misconduct by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the unsuccessful prosecution” of Hu. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported last month that an FBI agent admitted in testimony during the trial that federal agents had falsely accused Hu of being a Chinese spy, falsely implicated him as an operative for the Chinese military in meetings with his bosses and used false information to put Hu on a no-fly list, to justify assigning a team of agents to surveil Hu and his son, and to pressure Hu to spy for the U.S. government.

“Over the years, multiple people who happened to be of Asian descent have been falsely accused by the Department of Justice of espionage,” the letter to Garland says. “The common thread in every one of these cases was a defendant with an Asian surname -- and an innocent life that was turned upside down.”

Justice Department officials have denied allegations of racial profiling and defended the China Initiative as focused on Chinese government programs, not the ethnicity of particular individuals.

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