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Former U Florida researcher indicted for concealing China ties

By David Schwartz
Published: February 9th, 2021

The U.S. Justice Department has indicted a former University of Florida researcher for fraudulently obtaining $1.75 million in federal grant money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The DOJ alleges the UF faculty member concealed support he received from the Chinese government and a company that he founded in China to profit from that research he conducted at the university.

Lin Yang, 43, is charged with six counts of wire fraud and four counts of making false statements to an agency of the United States.

“Transparency about foreign funding sources allows federal agencies to allocate finite resources fairly. Transparency about foreign government affiliations, like business affiliations, allows the research community and the American people to assess any impact on the integrity of the research,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers. “According to the indictment, the defendant intentionally deceived both his employer and the federal government in order to obtain more than a million dollars in research funding. Rather than being open about his ties to the People’s Republic of China, the defendant chose to conceal them, in the process advancing both the Chinese government’s strategic goals and his own financial interests. The department will continue to protect the foundations of America’s research enterprise — integrity and transparency.”

 “The United States can benefit greatly from hosting foreign researchers in our academic institutions, but this case illustrates how that collaborative environment can also be exploited,” said Special Agent in Charge Rachel L. Rojas of the FBI Jacksonville Division. “The Chinese Communist government simply does not play by the same rules of academic integrity that we do. The FBI is committed to holding its proxies accountable, and to helping educational institutions protect cutting-edge research and technologies from foreign adversaries who are determined to defeat the U.S. at any cost.”

According to the indictment, Yang obtained a $1.75 million grant from NIH to develop and disseminate an imaging informatics tool for muscles known as “MuscleMiner.” Between September 2014 and July 2019, Yang served as the principal investigator for the NIH grant at UF. In addition to other compliance rules, Yang was required to disclose his foreign research support and financial conflicts of interest, including his interest in a foreign company.

During that same period, in 2016, Yang established a business in China known as “Deep Informatics.” The indictment alleges that Yang promoted his business in China by touting the fact that its products were the result of years of research supported by millions of dollars of U.S. government funding. At the same time, Yang applied for and was accepted into the China’s Thousand Talents Program (TTP) in connection with Northwestern Polytechnical University, located in Xi’an, China.

On multiple occasions, according to the indictment, Yang submitted disclosures to NIH containing false statements and material omissions concerning his affiliations and research endeavors with a foreign government and company. As the federal government began clamping down on foreign research ties generally, in January 2019 UF’s College of Engineering required all faculty to provide, in writing, updated disclosures concerning activities with foreign entities in China and two other countries. The indictment alleges that Yang provided UF with a written response that falsely stated he had no affiliation with any business, entity, or university in China.

Yang traveled to China in August of 2019 and has yet to return to the United States. Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Each count of making false statements to an agency of the United States is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

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