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Researchers Charged with Visa Fraud After Lying About Their Work for China’s People’s Liberation Army

Four individuals have recently been charged with visa fraud in connection with a scheme to lie about their status as members of the People’s Republic of China’s military forces, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), while in the United States conducting research.  Three of these individuals have been arrested and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking the fourth who is a fugitive from justice currently being harbored at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.

In addition to these arrests, the FBI has recently conducted additional interviews of visa holders suspected of having undeclared affiliation with the Chinese military in more than 25 American cities.

“These members of China’s People Liberation Army applied for research visas while hiding their true affiliation with the PLA,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions.  We will continue to conduct this investigation together with the FBI.”

“The United States welcomes students, academics, and researchers from across the globe. Today’s announcement shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government has gone to infiltrate and exploit America’s benevolence,” said John Brown, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “In interviews with members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in over 25 cities across the U.S., the FBI uncovered a concerted effort to hide their true affiliation to take advantage of the United States and the American people.” 

Each defendant has been charged with visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a).  If convicted, each faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.  The allegations against each are as follows:

Xin WANG

According to a complaint that was unsealed in the Northern District of California, on June 8, 2020 and court documents filed June 11, Wang entered the United States on March 26, 2019, after receiving a J1 non-immigrant visa in December of 2018.  Wang’s visa application stated that the purpose of his visit was to conduct scientific research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).  Wang is alleged to have made fraudulent statements on this visa application.  Specifically, Wang stated that he had served as an Associate Professor in Medicine in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), from September 1, 2002 through September 1, 2016.

In reality, when interviewed by officers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at LAX on June 7, Wang provided information that he was, in fact, still currently a “Level 9” technician in the PLA, employed by a military university lab.  CBP officers also obtained information that this roughly corresponded with the rank of Major.  According to court documents, Wang was still employed by the PLA while he was studying in the United States, and he made false statements about his military service in his visa application in order to increase the likelihood that he would receive his J1 visa. 

Also according to court documents, Wang provided information to CBP that he had been instructed by his supervisor, the director of his military university lab in the PRC, to observe the layout of the UCSF lab and bring back information on how to replicate it in China.  Wang similarly told his supervising UCSF professor that he had duplicated some of the work of that professor at the lab in China.  Some of the work of the UCSF lab was funded by grants from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Wang was arrested on June 7, and had his initial appearance on June 8.  A grand jury in the Northern District of California returned an indictment on June 22.

Juan TANG

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.

Chen SONG

The allegations describing the crime appear in an affidavit supporting the complaint filed on July 17 and unsealed in the Northern District of California on July 20.  According to the affidavit, Song, 38, a Chinese national, applied for a J1 nonimmigrant visa in November 2018.  She entered the United States on Dec. 23, 2018.  In her visa application, in response to the question, “Have you ever served in the military,” Song stated that she had served in the Chinese military only from Sept. 1, through June 30, 2011.  She further stated that her employer was “Xi Diaoyutai Hospital.” Song described herself in her visa application as a neurologist who was coming to the U.S. to conduct research at Stanford University related to brain disease.

The affidavit alleges that these were lies, that Song was a member of the PLA when she entered and while she was in the United States, and that the hospital she listed on her visa as her employer was a cover for her true employer, the PLA.  The affidavit identifies four research articles that she co-authored, which described her as affiliated with institutions subordinate to the PLA Air Force.  Specifically, the articles list Song as affiliated with the Air Force General Hospital in Beijing and the Fourth Military Medical University.  In addition, as of July 13, a Chinese health care website listed Song as an attending physician of the Department of Neurology of the PLA Air Force General Hospital, and included a photograph of Song wearing what appears to be a military uniform.  Further, an article published in 2015 identifies Song as the doctor at the PLA Air Force hospital who performed the autopsy on the former chief physician of the MRI Department at the hospital. 

Finally, according to the affidavit, a search of Song’s external hard drive, recovered pursuant to a court-authorized search warrant, found that, on June 21, Song had deleted a folder titled, in Chinese, “2018 Visiting School Important Information.”  The search recovered deleted documents from this folder.  The affidavit alleges that one of the recovered documents was a letter from Song to the Chinese Consulate in New York, explaining that she was extending her time in the United States for another year, and wrote that her stated employer, Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, is a false front, which is why she had obtained approval for her extension from the PLA Air Force and FMMU.  The letter further allegedly explained that, as these Chinese military approval documents were classified, she could not transmit them online.

Song was arrested on July 18.  

Kaikai ZHAO 

According to a complaint filed in the Southern District of Indiana on July 17 and unsealed today, Zhao, a graduate student studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at Indiana University, applied for an F1 nonimmigrant visa in June 2018.  In response to the question on the visa application, “Have you ever served in the military,” Zhao answered, “No.”  As set forth in the Complaint, Zhao served in the National University of Defense Technology, the PLA’s premier institution for scientific research and education, which is directly subordinate to the PRC’s Central Military Commission.  Zhao also attended the Aviation University of Air Force (AUAF), which is a Chinese military academy analogous to the U.S. Air Force Academy.  AUAF students are active military service members who receive military training.  In addition, the FBI located an online photograph of Zhao wearing a PLAAF uniform.

Zhao was arrested on July 18.

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