Arkansas Prof Arrested For Concealing 'Close' Ties To China; Accused Of 'Scheme To Defraud' While Receiving Millions In Grants

A professor at the University of Arkansas who received millions of dollars in research grants, including $500,000 from NASA, was arrested on Friday and charged with one count of wire fraud, according to a criminal affidavit unsealed Monday.

63-year-old Simon Saw-Teong Ang is the director of the school's High Density Electronics Center, which received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD) and NASA. Since 2013, Ang has been the primary investigator or co-investigator on US government-funded grants totaling over $5 million, according to the Washington Examiner's Jerry Dunleavy.

According to the FBI, Ang failed to disclose that he was getting paid by a Chinese university and Chinese companies in violation of university policy. He is accused of making false statements while failing to disclose his extensive ties to China as a member of the "Thousand Talents Scholars" program.

"Ang intentionally made materially false representations to the University of Arkansas and NASA which caused with transmission to be sent and received in the form of grant applications and grant funding that he would not otherwise have been entitled to receive," wrote FBI special agent Jonathan Willett in the affidavit.

"The complaint charges that Ang had close ties with the Chinese government and Chinese companies, and failed to disclose those ties when required to do so in order to receive grant money from NASA," said the Justice Department. "These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang’s scheme to defraud."

The FBI was tipped off to Ang's activities after a hard drive was turned into the university's lost and found. In an attempt to determine who it belonged to, a staff member discovered an email exchanges between the professor and a visiting researcher from Xidian University in Xi'an China in a file conspicuously labeled "Ang_Confidential.pdf." 

In one email from September 15, 2018, Ang writes:

"Dear [RESEARCHER 1], I want you to understand that I will do my best to support your stay here in Arkansas, there are things that are becoming very difficult for me recently because of the political climate. You can search the Chiense website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent Scholars. Not many people here know I am one of them but if this leaks out, my job here will be in deep troubles. I have to be very careful or else I may be out of a job from this university. I hope you understand my deep concerns...Please keep this to yourself as I trust you."

In November, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) released a 109-page bipartisan report which concluded that foreign nations "seek to exploit America’s openness to advance their own national interests," the most ambitious of which "has been China," according to the Examiner. According to the report, Chinese academics involved in their so-called 'Thousand Talents' program have been exploiting access to US research labs.

Ang applied for and was awarded a NASA grant for a November 2016 proposal titled “500° Celsius Capable Weather-Resistant Electronics Packaging for Extreme Environment Exploration.” The government funding was worth $512,904 between 2017 and 2020, and he got it despite NASA’s “China Funding Restriction.” The NASA contracting officer overseeing the $500,000 grant said it never would have been awarded to Ang if they had known about his vast China connections. -Washington Examiner

According to the FBI, Ang did disclose his participation in the "Thousand Talents Scholars" in 2014, but not his participation in other programs from 2012 - 2018, which the FBI suggested demonstrated 'his intent to execute a scheme do defraud the University of Arkansas and NASA" since he "obviously knew about the requirement to disclosure such conflicts of interest and deliberately kept all such conflicts of interest" from them.

In addition to his participation in the Thousand Talents program, Ang concealed his role at Binzhou Maotong Electronic Technology Company from 2011 - 2018 while acting as their principal investigator for a research project concerning hydrogen fuel cell research. He also failed to mention that he was the CTO at Binzhou Gande Electronic Technology from 2011 - 2018, as well as his stake in Jiangsu Xuanzhi New Materials and Technology Company - which he claimed to own between 7 - 9% of in an email.

The Justice Department’s China Initiative, launched in 2018, aims to combat both Chinese malign influence (ranging from cyberespionage to technology theft) and its Thousand Talents Program, which is aimed at stealing research. The department charged Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei in a global racketeering scheme earlier this year.

On Friday, Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li, a former Emory University professor and Chinese Thousand Talents Program participant, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns after he worked overseas at Chinese universities and did not report any of his foreign income on his federal tax returns.

The Department of Education’s Foreign Gift and Contract Report website shows $15.76 billion in foreign funding on U.S. campuses between 2014 and 2019, including $1.17 billion from China. Both the Education Department and Justice Department prosecutors have gone after universities for concealing their foreign funding. -Washington Examiner

Read the complaint below: