KANSAS CITY, KS – A federal judge out of Kansas tossed three of the four convictions lodged against a University of Kansas (KU) researcher who was found guilty this past April in connection with his employment at a government-affiliated university in the People’s Republic of China while simultaneously working on U.S. government-funded research at KU.
These tossed convictions happen to come in the wake of the Biden administration ending the Justice Department program started under Trump that sought to protect U.S. national security from the Chinese spying on U.S. intellectual property in higher education institutions.
On April 7th of 2022, 50-year-old Feng Tao was found guilty in federal court on three counts of wire fraud and a single count of false statements due to his then-undisclosed employment with Fuzhou University in China. He accepted his role in 2018, while simultaneously working at the KU.
According to the Justice Department, “Tao conducted research under contracts between the KU and two U.S. government agencies, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF),” where he later submitted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursement requests for expenditures associated with the grants” while failing to disclose to the federal government his ties to the PCR – something which these reimbursement documents specifically call for.
Furthermore, Tao didn’t inform anyone at KU he accepted the role at Fuzhou University in December of 2018 and even misled KU administrators about his travel to China to accept the role, telling university officials he was visiting Europe.
Yet on September 20th, over five months after his conviction, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that Tao was only guilty of making a false statement and tossed the three convictions of wire fraud. The judge’s rationale for the wire fraud convictions being thrown out was that she claimed prosecutors didn’t provide enough evidence to prove Tao received compensation for his role at Fuzhou University.
Tao’s original conviction was part of a Justice Department program launched during the Trump administration that was dubbed the “China Initiative,” which aimed at preventing spying by the Chinese Communist Party.
However, back in February, the Justice Department under the Biden administration put an end to this initiative, instead replacing the program with what they called the “Strategy for Countering Nation-State Threats.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said at the time of the shuttering of the China Initiative that the Justice Department’s new “goal with this strategy is to take a comprehensive approach that draws on the full extent of our tools and authorities to address the alarming rise in illegal activity from hostile nations. This includes growing threats within the United States and to Americans and U.S. businesses abroad.”
Olsen added that “the current threat landscape demands a broader approach,” mentioning that not just China, but countries like Iran, Russia, and North Korea should be areas of focus in this endeavor.