DOJ crackdown on China influence inside research universities expands to Arkansas

Longtime University of Arkansas professor charged with wire fraud for failing to disclose Chinese payments while getting NASA funding.

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The Department of Justice seal
The Department of Justice seal
(Brendan Smialowksi / Getty Images)
Last Updated:
May 11, 2020 - 8:52pm

A Justice Department crackdown on secret Chinese influence inside American universities has expanded to Arkansas, where a longtime professor has been charged with concealing payments from Beijing while receiving federal funding from NASA.

A criminal indictment unsealed Monday evening revealed that Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, Ark., a professor since 1988 at the University of Arkansas and the director of its High Density Electronics Center, was arrested on a wire fraud charge. 

The arrest comes after a major case brought in January against a high-profile Harvard University researcher.

The Arkansas complaint alleges Ang had close ties with the Chinese government and Chinese companies, and failed to disclose those ties, including payments, as required while receiving $5 million in grant money from NASA over several years.

An FBI agent affidavit stated that Ang failed to both disclose his work for private Chinese companies and his participation in a talent recruitment program that is part of a Chinese government effort to improve its civilian and military technology programs.

Ang disclosed some, but not all, of Chinese relationships and, FBI agents uncovered emails in which discussed his efforts to conceal his ties to China, the affidavit said.

In one such email in 2018, Ang wrote a Chinese researcher that "I want you to understand that I will do my best to support your stay here in Arkansas" but he cautioned "there are things that are becoming very difficult for me recently because of the political climate.

"You can search the Chinese website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent scholars. Not many people here know I'm 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 my my job from this University. I hope you understand my deep concerns. Please keep this to yourself as I trust you," Ang wrote in the email, according to the affidavit.

You can read the complaint against Ang here.

If convicted, Ang faces a a maximum of 20 years in prison. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department's national security division, signaling the importance of the case in Washington.

The arrest in Arkansas comes after Harvard University scholar Charles Lieber was charged in January with setting up a lab in China in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Chinese government and then denying knowledge of those payments to U.S. officials. Lieber has pleaded innocent.