The DOJ announced on Friday that officials have arrested a Chinese national working as a researcher at UCLA on federal charges of destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation. The researcher allegedly destroyed evidence of his ties to the Chinese military and the transference of research to Chinese government agencies.
The Chinese national, 29-year-old Guan Lei, was observed throwing a damaged hard drive into a dumpster outside his apartment, according to a statement made on Friday by the Justice Department.
The statement added that prosecutors say Lei is being investigated for possibly transferring sensitive software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), as well as for falsely denying his association with the Chinese military in his 2018 visa application and in interviews with law enforcement.
Lei was blocked from boarding a flight to China after he refused to cooperate with the FBI’s request to examine his computer. The FBI was able to later recover the damaged hard drive.
According to an affidavit, the internal hard drive “was irreparably damaged and that all previous data associated with the hard drive appears to have been removed deliberately and by force.”
The affidavit added that NUDT is “suspected of procuring U.S.-origin items to develop supercomputers with nuclear explosive applications” and has been placed on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List for nuclear nonproliferation reasons.
The felony offense of destruction of evidence carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to the Department of Justice.
Lei’s arrest makes for the latest in a series of arrests involving Chinese researchers suspected of hiding their ties to the Chinese government.
Earlier this year, University of Tennessee, Knoxville professor Anming Hu was arrested for allegedly concealing his ties with a Chinese university, and engaging in wire fraud. According to the DOJ, he conspired with China to defraud NASA to get federal funding.
Last month, Chinese researcher Juan Tang was arrested for allegedly concealing her ties to the Chinese military on a visa application she submitted so she could work in the United States.