The FBI believes a Chinese scientist accused of visa fraud for concealing her connections to her country’s military has been hiding out in China’s consulate in San Francisco, according to reports.
Juan Tang, who worked at University of California, Davis, allegedly claimed on her non-immigrant visa application that she had not served in the Chinese military, but FBI agents discovered images of her in uniform, Reuters reported.
Investigators later found that she had worked as a researcher at China’s Air Force Military Medical University.
On June 20, the feds questioned Tang, who said she had not served in the Chinese armed forces and was not a member of the Communist Party, according to a US District Court filing in San Francisco on Monday.
“Tang denied serving in the Chinese military, claimed she did not know the meaning of the insignia on her uniform, and that wearing a military uniform was required for attendance at FMMU because it was a military school,” US attorneys wrote, CNN reported.
“The FBI assesses that, at some point following the search and interview of Tang on June 20, 2020, Tang went to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, where the FBI assesses she has remained,” prosecutors wrote.
Tang, whose research focuses on biology, was charged with visa fraud on June 26.
US authorities cannot enter a foreign embassy or consulate unless invited, and certain top foreign officials have diplomatic immunity.
Several other Chinese scientists in the US also were named in the criminal complaint, according to CNN.
Prosecutors claim they are part of a “program conducted by the (Chinese People’s Liberation Army) — and specifically, FMMU or associated institutions — to send military scientists to the United States on false pretenses with false covers or false statements about their true employment.”
They added: “There exists evidence in at least one of these cases of a military scientist copying or stealing information from American institutions at the direction of military superiors in China.”
The prosecutors said there is also evidence of Beijing “instructing these individuals to destroy evidence and in coordinating efforts regarding the departure of these individuals from the United States, particularly following the charges filed against Xin Wang in this district on June 7, 2020.”
Xin was charged with visa fraud after trying to fly to China from Los Angeles, CNN reported. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called it “blatant political persecution.”
CNN said it has sought comment from the US State Department, the Justice Department, the FBI, and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Prosecutors also have argued against bail for another Chinese researcher, Chen Song, who also was charged with visa fraud, Reuters reported. Song conducted neurological research at Stanford University, court filings show.
The filings come amid mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing, and increased scrutiny over possible economic espionage by Chinese nationals working in the U.S.
The feds also have long warned universities about the risk of intellectual property theft by foreign researchers.
On Wednesday, the US State Department ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in a move officials said was made to protect US intellectual property and “private information.”
A day earlier, the Justice Department charged two Chinese citizens for trying to steal trade secrets by hacking into companies working on a coronavirus vaccine.
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