publication date: Jul. 31, 2020

UC Davis cancer researcher with ties to PRC military charged with visa fraud

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

A UC Davis cancer researcher was arrested July 24 on visa fraud charges.

Juan Tang, the researcher, had previously sought refuge at the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco, according to a July 23 statement from the Department of Justice.

When she applied for a non-immigrant J-1 visa in October 2019, Tang did not disclose her status as a uniformed officer in a branch of the PRC military, DOJ said.

“The UC Davis School of Medicine is providing all information requested by the authorities as they investigate this case,” a UC Davis spokesperson said to The Cancer Letter. “Juan Tang was a visiting researcher in the Department of Radiation Oncology, funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council, a study-based exchange program affiliated with the China’s Ministry of Education and Xijing Hospital in China. Her work was solely based in the research laboratory and she left the University at the end of June.

“It appears the investigation of Ms. Tang is focused on statements made in her visa application for travel to the U.S.”

The details of Tang’s case were publicly announced amid a recent flurry of prosecution involving individuals who had ties to the People’s Republic of China:

  • Three other researchers—at UCSF, Stanford, and Indiana University—were also charged with visa fraud, according to the July 23 DOJ announcement, and

  • A Singaporean national, who reportedly admitted to working with PRC intelligence operatives, pleaded guilty July 24 to tapping U.S. government employees for sensitive information.

Earlier this year, six researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center were ousted after an internal review by Moffitt alleged that they violated conflict of interest rules through their work in China (The Cancer Letter, Jan. 24, 2020, Dec. 20, 2019).

The Moffitt cases echo the COIs revealed in 2019 at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where three faculty members were sanctioned for failure to ensure confidentiality of review of NIH grants. The MD Anderson scientists were also accused of failing to disclose outside funding, academic appointments and roles in laboratories outside the U.S. (The Cancer Letter, April 26, 2019).

Tang, the former UC Davis researcher, does not serve as a principal investigator on any NIH grant, NIH officials said.

“NIH does not comment on specific researchers or any investigations, whether or not they may be underway or completed,” a spokesperson for the NIH Office of Extramural Research said to The Cancer Letter.

“As NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins noted in his Statement on Protecting the Integrity of U.S. Biomedical Research, NIH research is built on a set of bedrock principles of scientific excellence, unassailable integrity and fair competition,” NIH officials said. “NIH expects applicants for and recipients of NIH-supported research—both domestic and foreign—to abide by these principles.

“More on NIH’s efforts in this area can be found on the OER’s Protecting U.S. Biomedical Intellectual Innovation webpage and this recent related blog post from Dr. Michael Lauer, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research.”

The July 23 DOJ statement describing Tang’s case follows:

According to court documents unsealed in the Eastern District of California on July 20, Tang, a researcher at the University of California at Davis, applied for a non-immigrant J1 visa on or about Oct. 28, 2019. The visa was issued in November 2019, and Tang entered the United States on or about Dec. 27, 2019. Tang is alleged to have made fraudulent statements on her visa application. Specifically, to the question, ‘Have you ever served in the military,’ Tang responded ‘No.’

In fact, Tang is a uniformed officer of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF). As set forth in the Complaint, the FBI found a photograph of Tang in a military uniform and references to Tang’s employment at the Air Force Military Medical University, which has also been known as the Fourth Military Medical University. The FBI interviewed Tang on June 20. Although Tang denied having been a member of the military, an additional photograph of Tang in a different PLA military uniform was found on electronic media seized pursuant to a search warrant.

The FBI is seeking to arrest Tang pursuant to an Arrest Warrant and Complaint that were filed on June 26, and unsealed on July 20. Tang has sought refuge at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, where she remains.

 

On July 24, FBI reported that Tang was taken into federal custody.

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