University Of Virginia Researcher Charged After Trying To Board Flight To China While Allegedly In Possession Of Stolen Research

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A researcher at the University of Virginia who was arrested while trying to board a plane to China with allegedly stolen research has been charged with federal crimes, including theft of trade secrets, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Haizhou Hu, 34, a Chinese national, roused the suspicions of authorities after a routine screening at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Aug. 25 as he was trying to board a flight to China. “The screening revealed Hu was alleged to be in possession of bio-inspired research simulation software code that he was not authorized to possess,” the statement said.

Hu was charged with accessing a computer without authorization or exceeding authorization to obtain information from a protected computer and theft of trade secrets. He was conducting research in bio-mimics and fluid dynamics at the university.

Numerous researchers and professors at American universities have been arrested in 2019 and 2020 as the Justice Department cracks down on Beijing’s influence on college campuses, often on charges related to lying about ties with the Chinese government.

The Justice Department also announced the arrest of another Chinese national, who was a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. Guan Lei, 29, was charged with destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation. Lei was in the U.S. on a J-1 non-immigrant visa.

Lei allegedly threw a hard drive into a trash dumpster near his resident on July 25, and the FBI recovered the hard drive after Leiwas not allowed to board a flight to China and didn’t allow the FBI to examine his computer.

The data on the hard drive was allegedly “removed deliberately and by force,” the statement said. He is being investigated for possibly transferring sensitive U.S. software to China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT).

Lei also allegedly lied about his ties to the People’s Liberation Army, or China’s military in his 2018 visa application. Lei later admitted to participating in the Chinese military, and it was discovered that one of his NUDT advisors was a Lieutenant General in the Chinese military who developed computers and nuclear technology for departments of the People’s Liberation Army, according to the statement. 

Only a few days prior to the aforementioned arrests, Zhengdong Cheng, a professor at Texas A&M, was arrested on charges including lying about his ties with Chinese-owned universities while accepting NASA funding. (RELATED: Texas A&M Professor Arrested For Allegedly Lying About China Ties While Accepting NASA Funding)