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Texas A&M professor, NASA researcher accused of secretly collaborating with China

TAMU Professor Zhengdong Cheng is accused of secretly collaborating with a university and at least one company in China.
Credit: TAMU
Professor Zhengdong Cheng, 53, is charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud.

HOUSTON — A professor at Texas A&M who was working on U.S. space projects was arrested on federal charges Sunday.

Professor Zhengdong Cheng, 53, is charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud.

Cheng led a team conducting research for NASA while secretly working with China, according to federal investigators.

“Dr. Cheng is accused of hiding his affiliation with the Guangdong University of Technology, along with other foreign universities, while disregarding the rules established under his NASA contract during his employment at TAMU,” said FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner.

The charges allege:

  • Cheng and TAMU received funds based on Cheng knowingly providing false information to TAMU and consequently to NASA.
  • In addition to the funds, Cheng personally benefited from his affiliation with TAMU and NASA with increased access to unique NASA resources, such as the International Space Station, according to the complaint.
  • This access allegedly allowed Cheng to further his standing in China at Guangdong University of Technology and other universities.
  • The charges further allege he held senior research positions there unknown to TAMU and NASA and was able to serve in the People’s Republic of China Talents program.

Feds say China’s Talent Recruitment Plans are designed to attract, recruit and cultivate high-level scientific talent to contribute to China’s scientific development, economic prosperity and national security. 

“China is building an economy and academic institutions with bricks stolen from others all around the world,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. “While 1.4 million foreign researchers and academics are here in the U.S. for the right reasons, the Chinese Talents Program exploits our open and free universities. These conflicts must be disclosed, and we will hold those accountable when such conflict violates the law."

“Once again we have witnessed the criminal conflicts that can arise from participation in the Chinese government’s talent program,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “Professor Cheng allegedly made false statements to his university and to NASA regarding his affiliations with the Chinese government. The Department of Justice will continue seeking to illuminate the darkness around these talent programs and expose the exploitation of our nation and our prized research institutions.”

The FBI worked with NASA investigators and TAMU on the case.

Cheng is scheduled to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Sheldon Monday in Houston.

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