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Foreign Influence in Federally Sponsored Research – Guidance

What is Foreign Influence?

Government agencies have identified foreign interests and activities that require disclosure to federal agencies when proposing to or participating in federally sponsored research. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) provided guidance regarding government-wide foreign interest and activity disclosure requirements in accordance with National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) 33: Presidential Memorandum on United States Government-Supported Research and National Security.

Virginia Tech remains committed to meeting regulatory compliance in all areas of education and research activities so that stakeholders are responsible stewards of public and private funding. Federal sponsors issue requirements for researchers to disclose their foreign and domestic affiliations, interests, and activities; therefore, researchers must promptly disclose to federal sponsors all relevant activities and information that bear on potential conflicts of interest and commitment. Disclosure remains part of the broader set of researchers’ responsibilities to ensure objectivity, honesty, transparency, fairness, accountability, and stewardship.

Faculty and Staff Foreign Interest Disclosure Responsibilities

What, How, and When to Disclose to Virginia Tech

Employees must disclose additional work commitments and financial interests in accordance with Virginia Tech’s Individual Conflicts of Interest and Commitment Policy (No. 13010). Foreign interests and participation in foreign talent and government recruitment programs should be disclosed in the university's Disclosure and Management System. Please visit the Disclosure Guidelines & Requirements page for more information. Contact the Virginia Tech Research Conflict of Interest (RCOI) Program at if you have questions regarding disclosure requirements under this policy. 

Note that disclosing your interests in the Disclosure and Management System does not alleviate your obligation to notify OSP of any disclosure requirements to individual sponsors. Contact regarding questions on individual grant or contract disclosure requirements.  


Case Studies

Harvard University Case Study (Updated)

On December 21, 2021, Harvard Professor Dr. Charles Lieber was found guilty of concealing his affiliation with the Wuhan University of Technology and his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Program. The former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department was convicted by a federal jury in connection with lying to federal authorities about his affiliation with the People’s Republic of China’s Thousand Talents Program and the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in Wuhan, China, as well as failing to report income he received from WUT. Dr. Lieber, 64, was sentenced to time served (two days) in prison; two years of supervised release with six months of home confinement; a fine of $50,000; and $33,600 in restitution to the IRS. 

University of Washington Case Study

The University of Washington has agreed to pay more than $800,000 to settle Justice Department allegations that a professor submntted false documentation relating to a highly competitive grant.  The grant documents, submitted to NSF by Mehmet Sarikaya, a professor in the university's Materials Science and Engineering Department, misrepresented the involvement of two researchers who in reality were not involved in the work. 

The Ohio State University Case Study [Updated August 2021]

Dr.  Song Guo Zheng, an rheumatology professor and researcher at The Ohio State University, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for making false statements to federal authorities as part of an immunology research fraud scheme. Dr. Zheng was also ordered to pay more than $3.4 million in restitution to NIH and approximately $413,000 to The Ohio State University.

Dr. Zheng admitted that he lied on applications in order to use approximately $4.1 million in grants from NIH to develop China's expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology. He concealed his participation in Chinese government talent recruitment programs, including the Chinese government's Thousand Talent program, and hiding his affiliations with at least five research institutions in China.  

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Case Study (Updated May 2022)

On April 21, 2021, Dr. Mingqing Xiao, a mathematics professor and researcher at Southern University of Illinois-Carbondale (SIUC) was charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements. Dr. Xiao is accused of fradulently obtaining $151,099 of federal grant money from NSF by concealing support he was receiving from the Chinese government, and Shenzhen University, a Chinese university. On May 4, 2022, Dr. Xaio was found guilty of tax charges but not grant fraud.

Nationwide Children's Hospital Research Institute Case Study

On April 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that Yu Zhou and his wife and co-conspirator Li Chen, pled guilty to charges of conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from Nationwide Children's Hospital Research Institute (NCHRI). Chen was sentenced in February o 30 months in prison for her role in the scheme. 

According to court documents, Zhou and Chen worked at separate medical research labs at NCHRI for ten years. Zhou and Chen conspired to steal and monetize one of the trade secrets by creating and selling exosome "isolation kits". They started a company in China to sell the kits.

As part of their convictions, the couple will forfeit approximately $1.45 million, 500.000 shares in common stock of Avalon GlobaCare Corporation, and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc. They were also ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution. 

Georgia Tech Case Study

On March 18, 2021, Gee-Kung Chang, a Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) professor, was charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud. According to the charges, Dr. Chang and Jainjun Yu, then a research director at ZTE USA- a subsidiary of ZTE Corporation, a partially state-owned Chinese telecommunications and information technology company- in Morristown, New Jersey, allegedly conspired together to bring Chinese nationals to the United States to conduct research at the company. 

To facilitate the entry of the Chinese nationals into the United States, Chang allegedly abused his position as a professor at Georgia Tech, an institution that was a designated exchange sponsor for the Department of State's J-1 Visa program, to arrange for Chinese nationals to fraudulantly obtain and maintain J-1 Visas. The indictment alleges that the Chinese nationals indicated that they would be working with Chang at Georgia Tech, however, they actually traveled to and resided in New Jersey, working with Yu at ZTE USA.

Stanford Case Study

On February 18, 2021, the Justice Department announced that "a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging Chen Song, a Stanford University visiting researcher, with visa fraud, obstruction of justice, destruction of documents, and false statements in connection with a scheme to conceal and lie about her status as a member of the People's Republic of China's military forces while in the United States while in the United States". 

Van Andel Research Institute Case Study

The Department of Justice reached a $5.5 million settlement with Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) to resolve allegations of undisclosed Chinese grants to two researchers. The settlement resolves certain factual misrepresentations VARI made to NIH with deliberate ignorance or reckless disregard for the truth regarding the Chinese grants.

MIT Case Study (Updated)

The United States dropped charges against an MIT professor, Dr. Gang Chen. Dr. Chen was accused of failing to disclose contracts, appointments, and awards from various entities in the People's Republic of China to the U.S. Department of Energy.

University of Kansas Case Study [Updated September 2023]

On April 7th, 2022, a former University of Kansas (KU) professor was convicted by a federal jury on three counts of wire fraud and one count of false statements after he deliberately concealed that he was also employed by a government-affiliated university in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), while working on U.S. government funded research at KU. Dr. Tao, was accused of failing to disclose an employment contract with Fuzhou University. He continued to receive federal research dollars without disclosing this relationship and certifying that he had no conflict of interest or commitment. The federal district court judge has ordered two years of probation rather than a prison sentence for the former chemical engineering professor.

University of Virginia Case Study

While attempting to leave the United States, UVA professor Dr. Haizhou Hu was arrested and charged with accessing a computer without authorization, or exceeding authorization to obtain information from a protected computer and theft of trade secrets. Hu allegedly unlawfully possessed bio-inspired research simulation software code that he was not authorized to possess, and which represented the result of years of research and resources in its development by members of the UVA academic community.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal September 23, 2020, charges against Dr. Hu were dropped.

Texas A&M Case Study

Texas A&M professor Dr. Zhengdong Cheng working on U.S. space projects allegedly hid affiliations with two Chinese state-owned academic and commercial institutions been charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud.

"Professor Cheng allegedly made false statements to his university and to NASA regarding his affiliations with the Chinese goverment."

In additon 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. This access allegedly allowed Cheng to further his standing in China at Guandong 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.

University of Arkansas Case Study (Updated)

On January 21, 2022, a University of Arkansas professor, Dr. Simon Saw-Teong Ang, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, pled guilty of one count of making false statements to the FBI about his status as an inventor. All other charges were dropped. Dr. Chen was arrested on Friday, May 8, 2020, on charges related to Wire Fraud.  The complaint charges that Ang had close ties with the Chinese government and Chinese companies, and failed to disclose those ties when required to do so in order to receive grant money from NASA.  These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang’s scheme to defraud.”

Emory University Case Study

On May 8, 2020, Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li of Atlanta, Georgia, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with filing a false tax return and has been sentenced by a U.S. District Judge and ordered to repay over $35,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.  Dr. Li, a former Emory University professor and Chinese Thousand Talents Program participant, worked overseas at Chinese Universities and did not report any of his foreign income on his federal tax returns.

University of West Virginia Case Study

 Dr. James Patrick Lewis, of Fairview, West Virginia, has admitted to a fraud charge involving West Virginia University, the Department of Justice announced. In July 2017, Lewis, a tenured physics professor at West Virginia University, entered into a contract of employment with the People’s Republic of China through its “Global Experts 1000 Talents Plan.

“Lewis defrauded a public university into giving him leave, so that he could satisfy his competing obligations to a Chinese institution, which he hid from the school,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

University of Tennessee Knoxville Case Study (Updated)

Dr. Anming Hu, an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) was arrested February 27, 2020 on a federal indictment and charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements.

“Hu allegedly committed fraud by hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving funding from NASA,”

Dr. Hu was accused of failing to disclose an affiliation with Beijing University of Technology. Dr. Hu’s false representations and omissions to UTK about his affiliation with BJUT caused UTK to falsely certify to NASA that UTK was in compliance with this federal law.

The case was dismissed as a mistrial in June 2021. In August 2021, prosecutors announced they would seek a retrial. On September 9, 2021, the presiding judge dismissed the case summarily.

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How to Get Assistance:

Faculty members should be encouraged to contact their Associate Dean for Research for an initial discussion regarding any foreign affiliations related to their research efforts. Questions regarding individual grants and contracts can be directed to