By Hannah Ng
A federal jury on May 4 found an Illinois math professor guilty of failing to disclose a foreign bank account but dismissed grant fraud charges, the latest conviction stemming from a crackdown on Chinese influence in U.S. research launched by the Trump administration.
Xiao Mingqing, a Southern Illinois University (SIU) Carbondale professor, was convicted on four counts of violating tax laws by failing to report to U.S. authorities a Chinese bank account created to support his research collaborations in China.
But he was cleared of lying to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and his university about ties to Shenzhen University and Chinese research funding agencies in connection with a 2019 NSF grant he received.
Prosecutors had alleged that Xiao defrauded the National Science Foundation (NSF) of $151,099 in grants by concealing aid that he was receiving from the Chinese regime, according to an April 2021 indictment filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
U.S. Judge Staci Yandle on May 2 deemed prosecutors’ evidence on the two related wire fraud charges, that would have subjected Xiao to a sentence of up to 20 years in prison each, insufficient.
Xiao’s attorneys said they plan to appeal the verdict, which could bring him a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and a substantial fine.
His lawyers said in a statement, that the judge’s rejection of the grant fraud charges against Xiao showed “a complete rebuke of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative.”
The now-disbanded “China Initiative” was launched by the Trump administration in 2018 to combat the Chinese regime’s state-sponsored espionage and theft of trade secrets. The program led to the prosecution of some two dozen U.S. academics, most of them of Chinese origin, who were alleged to have concealed funding ties with Chinese institutions and state-backed recruitment plans.
U.S. officials have warned that the Chinese regime uses recruitment programs, such as the “thousand talents plan,” to lure foreign academics to work in China, a process that facilitates the transfer of technology and know-how to the country.
But the China Initiative’s targeting of ethnically Chinese professors drew the ire of many in the academic community, who alleged that the department was engaging in racial profiling and chilling scientific exchange between the United States and China.
In response to these criticisms, the Biden administration shut down the program in February. While an internal review did not find actual racial bias, the initiative was canceled due to prevent a “harmful perception of bias,” a Justice Department official said at the time.
The closure has drawn harsh rebuke from GOP lawmakers who say that the initiative is necessary to combat Beijing’s whole-of-society efforts to steal American technology to ultimately supplant the United States as sole superpower on the world stage.
Prior to Xiao’s case, former chair of chemistry at Harvard University Charles Lieber was convicted of failing to disclose his research ties to China. Frank Tao, a former professor at the University of Kansas, was convicted on similar charges.
In January federal prosecutors dropped charges against Chen Gang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor accused of concealing his ties to China when seeking federal grant money.
Xiao has worked at SIU’s Carbondale campus since 2000, according to court documents. He submitted a grant application to the university in September 2018 without informing the school that he was receiving a grant from the Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province, China, the indictment alleged.
The university put Xiao on paid administrative leave immediately after the April 2021 indictment and embarked on its own investigation.
Xiao is to remain under court supervision prior to his sentencing, which is scheduled for Aug. 11.