Feds drop charges against MIT professor accused of lying about ties to China

The Chinese-born mechanical engineer and nanotechnologist had been charged for lying about his connections to China while applying for a U.S. government grant

Updated: January 21, 2022 - 8:01am

The Justice Department has dropped charges against a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who had been accused of hiding his ties to China when seeking federal grant money. 

Federal prosecutors said new information had come to light pertaining to the Chinese-born mechanical engineer and nanotechnologist that undermined several of the charges he faced.

Professor Gang Chen had been accused of omitting, when applying for an Energy Department grant, that he held a position as an "overseas expert" for the Chinese government, in addition to sitting on the advisory board of Shenzhen's Southern University of Technology.

An attorney for Chen argues his client "disclosed everything he was supposed to disclose and he never lied to the government or anyone else."

The university staff had rallied around the professor and the school paid Chen's legal fees.

Newly appointed U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement Thursday about the case that prosecutors no longer believe they can prove their case at trial.

Dropping the case, she said, is "in the interests of justice."

Chen was charged in January 2021 as part of Justice's "China Initiative," originally established during Donald Trump's presidency to crack down on Chinese espionage and theft of American research. The Biden Justice Department has continued the initiative, though says it is reviewing its methods and approach.

Last month, Harvard professor Charles Lieber was convicted of lying about his ties to a Chinese recruitment program.