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Ohio State researcher accused in scheme to share NIH-funded work with China


By David Schwartz
Published: July 14th, 2020

In the latest in a growing list of scandals involving research theft involving China, a researcher working most recently at Ohio State University is facing federal charges in what prosecutors say was a sophisticated scheme to send U.S.-funded research to China.

Song Guo Zheng, 57, of suburban Hilliard, and his research groups secured more than $4.3 million in grants from the NIH for their research while also receiving overlapping funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, according to a criminal complaint unsealed last week.

Zheng worked in the division of rheumatology and immunology at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, and had been heralded wheh he was hired last year as “a nationally and internally renowned researcher.”

But according to prosecutors, Zheng was involved in a “sophisticated medical grant fraud scheme” involving the transfer of research paid for with U.S. grant funds to China. He faces one felony count of fraud or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, and one count of making false statements when not disclosing his foreign affiliations to authorities, which carries up to five years. He has been ordered held without bond because he is a flight risk.

Federal agents arrested Zheng in Alaska in May he was attempting to board a private flight headed to China. Charging documents say he had “three large bags packed for a long, if not permanent, journey,” including one stuffed with two laptop computers, several USB drives and silver bars.

“We allege that Zheng was preparing to flee the country after he learned that his employer had begun an administrative process into whether or not he was complying with rules governing taxpayer-funded grants,” U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers said in a statement.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Zheng has been participating since 2013 in the so-called “Thousand Talents” program, a recruitment program established by the Chinese government that has been implicated in other IP theft cases.

Before moving to Ohio, Zheng worked at the University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University, the complaint said. Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said Zheng is currently on unpaid leave, and the university has begun the process of terminating him.

Source: CBS Pittsburgh

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