A researcher affiliated to China's People's Liberation Army, who is suspected of stealing secrets from medical researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), was arrested at Los Angeles this week, US officials said on Friday. The accused has been charged with visa fraud and is being interrogated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The accused, Xin Wang, has been in the United States for more than a year and has allegedly been sending the research work obtained from the University of California to a military lab in China. Wang, 36, was arrested while attempting to board a flight to Tianjin, China.
Researcher or Chinese Spy?
U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco and the local FBI office said in a joint statement that Wang entered the United States in March 2019 to conduct scientific research at the University of California according to his J1 non-immigrant visa application. He did research for a post-doctoral fellowship at one of the laboratories from April 2019 to March 2020, until he had to stop working due to the coronavirus shelter-at-place orders.
He was arrested from the Los Angeles airport earlier this week while trying to flee with his wife and child to Tianjin, China, as the stay-in-place orders have now been lifted and travel restrictions have eased. Wang has been charged with espionage and visa fraud. He had said on his multiple visa entry applications that his military service as an associate medical professor with People's Liberation Army had ended long back in 2016 and that he was now only a private medical researcher.
Part of an Elaborate Espionage Plan?
FBI officials said that during interrogation Wang told Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents at the airport that he was an officer in the Chinese People's Liberation Army and was working for them. According to the U.S. officials, Wang was currently a "Level-9" technician, which is equivalent to the rank of a major in the People's Liberation Army.
The U.S. officials claim that Wang was part of an elaborate espionage plot and has admitted that he had instructions from the director of the military lab he works for to observe and obtain the layout of the University of California lab as they wanted to make a similar lab in China. He has also been accused of trying to steal important materials and has already mailed substantial research work to China.
In fact, Wang had also deleted his personal phone number of WeChat before reaching the airport to fee with his family. A lot of high-profile research works are carried out at the University of California's labs. Some of the work of the lab, where Wang was working, was funded by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health.
China, however, has denied the claims. According to a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang is a researcher in cardiovascular diseases and China believes he won't "jeopardized the national interest or security of the U.S." If convicted, Wang could face a penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine of $250,000.