A mathematics professor and researcher at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, was indicted this week by a federal grand jury for grant fraud, after allegedly failing to disclose secret support he had received from the Chinese Communist Party and a Chinese university.
Southern Illinois University professor Mingqing Xiao was charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
According to court documents, Xiao fraudulently obtained $151,099 in federal grant money from the National Science Foundation (NSF) by concealing support he was receiving from China’s government, and Shenzhen University, a public university in China.
“Again, an American professor stands accused of enabling the Chinese government’s efforts to corruptly benefit from U.S. research funding by lying about his obligations to, and support from, an arm of the Chinese government and a Chinese public university,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD).
“Honesty and transparency about funding sources lie at the heart of the scientific research enterprise,” Demers added. “They enable U.S. agencies to distribute scarce grants for scientific research fairly and equitably. And they allow other researchers to evaluate potential conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment. When researchers fall short of fulfilling these core academic values in ways that violate the law, the Department stand ready to investigate and prosecute.”
U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft for the Southern District of Illinois pointed out that “university grant fraud allows China to co-opt U.S. research and development at a fraction of the cost.”
“Prosecutions like this one play an important role, not just in protecting American investments in academic research from foreign exploitation, but also in combating the growing threat that China poses to our national security,” Weinhoeft added.
According to the indictment, Xiao has worked in the university’s mathematics department since 2000. The professor allegedly applied for and received NSF grant funds for a project set to run from 2019 to 2022, without informing the agency about another grant he had already received from the Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province, China.
Xiao had also allegedly failed to disclose to NSF that he was on the payroll of Shenzhen University, and that he had already committed to teaching and conducting research at Shenzhen University from 2018 to 2023.
The indictment goes on to allege that in 2019 — while his NSF grant proposal was still pending — the professor submitted another grant proposal to the Natural Science Foundation of China.
The DOJ adds that “before awarding the grant, NSF questioned Xiao about any current or pending funding from ‘worldwide sources,’ including specifically whether he held any position outside of the United States or had obtained funding from non-U.S. funding sources.”
Xiao faces up to 20 years in prison on each count of wire fraud, and up to five years in prison for making a false statement, if convicted. All three charges are also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000.
Xiao is the latest member of academia to be indicted after failing to disclose his ties with the Chinese Communist Party.
Earlier this year, MIT professor and researcher Gang Chen was arrested and charged with grant fraud after allegedly failing to disclose his work for Communist China to the U.S. Department of Energy.
In February, Chen Song, a member of the Chinese military lied to federal immigration officials to secure a visa to the U.S. so that she could conduct research at Stanford University in California, according to a federal indictment.
Last year, University of Tennessee, Knoxville professor Anming Hu was arrested for allegedly concealing his ties with a Chinese university, and engaging in wire fraud.
Last June, former chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department at Harvard University Charles Lieber was indicted on two counts of making false statements to federal investigators about his ties to China’s Thousand Talents Program (TTP).