FBI accuses ex-Cleveland Clinic researcher of spying for China

WASHINGTON: A Chinese-born former employee of the Cleveland Clinic was arrested on fraud charges related to US$3.6 million in federal grants, the FBI said on Thursday, the latest move in a US crackdown on alleged attempts by China to steal American scientific advances.

The FBI and other federal enforcement agencies searched the Shaker Heights, Ohio, home of Dr Qing Wang, and arrested him on charges of false claims and wire fraud on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Wang accepted grants from the National Institutes of Health without disclosing that he was serving at same time as dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

That was a violation of the terms of the grants, they said.

They said Wang is a Chinese-born US citizen specialising in genetics and cardiovascular disease who has been affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic since 1997.

“Dr Wang deliberately failed to disclose his Chinese grants and foreign positions and even engaged in a pervasive pattern of fraud to avoid criminal culpability,” said Eric Smith, head of the FBI’s Cleveland office.

US investigators say China and its citizens and operatives have long made extensive and aggressive efforts to steal unclassified American technology, ranging from military material to medical research, but US agencies only launched a broad effort to stop alleged Chinese espionage in the US in 2018.

The FBI alleged Wang was a participant in the Thousand Talents programme, a scheme which US officials say the Chinese government created to engage with individuals who had access to foreign technology or valuable data.

Investigators said that through Wang’s participation in the programme, China provided US$3 million in research support to enhance facilities and operations at the institutions he was affiliated with in China.

Wang said he is innocent, according to a defence attorney.

“Dr Wang is a citizen of the US,” the attorney, Brandon Henderson, said in an email.

“As we all know, being presumed innocent is a legal right enjoyed by our citizens.”

The Cleveland Clinic said that it had fired Wang after learning of his failure to disclose his ties to China.

“Cleveland Clinic has cooperated fully with the NIH and with federal law enforcement as they conducted their own investigations into these same subjects and will continue to do so,” it said in a statement.

In one of several recent cases involving alleged Chinese efforts to steal US technology, a Harvard biology professor in January was accused of lying to the Pentagon and NIH about his involvement in the programme.