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Feds Say Scientists Sold MRI Secrets To China

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Three MRI researchers at New York University Langone Medical Center were illegally feeding research results to a Chinese medical imaging company and a Chinese government–supported institute, according to U.S. federal prosecutors.

Some American officials and analysts say the Chinese government has a policy of trying to acquire overseas technology from Chinese scientists working in the United States and other countries, according to a New York Times story published Wednesday. The story says:

Those scientists are heavily recruited to return to China or, in some instances, to share their knowledge while remaining overseas, according to the federal court case and a book released last month by three experts who do China research for the United States government.

The “federal court case” is the one involving the three researchers. They were, according to U.S. officials, essentially double agents. “Instead of working exclusively for a New York research institution,” said George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office, “the defendants took bribes to acquire research for the benefit of both a Chinese competitor and a Chinese government institution.”

Venizelos was quoted in a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York and the FBI. According to that release and stories from the New York Times and Reuters, here’s what prosecutors and NYU Langone say happened:

About 2008, NYU hired Yudong Zhu, PhD, to teach and conduct MRI research. After receiving a $4 million, five-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health, he recruited Chinese engineers Xing Yang and Ye Li to work with him. All three men are Chinese citizens.

All three allegedly hid from NYU their affiliations with United Imaging Healthcare, a Chinese medical imaging company, and the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, which prosecutors described as “a Chinese government–sponsored research institute.” The three men allegedly shared the results of their NIH-funded research with what prosecutors called the “competing research entities in China.”

A co-conspirator, identified by prosecutors as “CC-1,” was affiliated with both United Imaging and Shenzhen Institutes. Dr. Zhu arranged that CC-1 would provide financial benefits to Yang and Li, paying for Yang’s graduate-school tuition, Li’s U.S. apartment, and travel for both men between the United States and China.

A prosecutor said Dr. Zhu admitted to the FBI that he himself had received almost $500,000 from his Chinese affiliates.

All three are charged with one count of commercial bribery conspiracy, which could carry a maximum prison sentence of five years. Dr. Zhu is also charged with one count of falsifying records in connection with the NIH grant, which could put him in prison for another 20 years.

Dr Zhu and Yang have been released after posting bail. Li flew to China before he could be arrested. NYU officials had learned of the undisclosed affiliations and had investigated, confiscating the men’s laptops among other measures.

Related CME seminar: UCSF Musculoskeletal MR Imaging

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