FBI Boston
Kristen Setera
(857) 386-2905
January 14, 2021

FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta’s Remarks at Press Conference Announcing Arrest of MIT Professor Gang Chen

FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta delivered remarks at a press conference announcing charges against MIT professor Gang Chen in connection with allegedly failing to disclose contracts, appointments, and awards from various entities in the People’s Republic of China to the U.S. Department of Energy. Remarks prepared for delivery.

It has become much too commonplace that the ruling Communist Party of China thinks it can conduct illegal activity, and bend people here in the United States to its will, in order to try and surpass our country as the world’s leading superpower.

Earlier this morning, we arrested Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Gang Chen at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Immediately after we took Chen into custody, we initiated the execution of three search warrants: one at his home and two others at MIT.

Our investigation found Chen was working with the Chinese Communist Government in various capacities dating back to 2012, at our country’s expense. And the real victims in this case are you—the taxpayers—who we believe he knowingly and willfully defrauded out of $19 million in federal grants by exploiting our system to enhance China’s research in nanotechnology.

In applying for these scarce federal grants, we allege Chen failed to disclose that he was acting as an “overseas expert” on science and technology for the Chinese Communist Government—after China’s Consulate Office in New York asked him to provide expertise and advice—in exchange for financial compensation and awards.

Through an extensive document review, we found Chen has accepted approximately $29 million in foreign funding, primarily from entities tied to the Chinese Communist Government. And through a variety of Chinese talent plans, Chen received at least $355,000 for his services and expertise; money which he never disclosed to MIT or the federal government.

We also believe he committed tax fraud by failing to file a foreign bank account report, disclosing that he had a bank account in China with at least a $25,000 balance in which he kept money paid to him by various entities in China, with ties to the Chinese government.

Additionally, while Chen was chair of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and serving as an overseas advisor, we believe he even went as far as recommending several students to participate in various Chinese talent programs. And while serving as an advisor to the China Scholarship Council—he recommended several students to receive the “Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad.”

The cutting-edge research and technologies that are being developed here in Massachusetts must be carefully protected from our foreign adversaries and the FBI will continue to do everything it can to safeguard these important innovations.

To put this threat into perspective, we have now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. And of the 5,000 active counterintelligence cases the FBI has, nearly half of them are related to China. Each and every one of our field offices—including the Boston Division—have active investigations. And what needs to be made clear is that the Chinese Communist Government doesn’t play by the same rules of academic integrity and freedom that we do.

We know they use some Chinese students in the U.S. as non-traditional collectors to steal our intellectual property. We know that through their “Thousand Talents Plan” and similar programs, they try to entice researchers at our universities to bring their knowledge to China—even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating export controls or conflict-of-interest policies to do so.

We also know they support the establishment of institutes on our campuses that are more concerned with promoting Communist Party ideology than independent scholarship. They try to pressure Chinese students to self-censor their views while studying here, and they use campus proxies to monitor both U.S. and foreign students and staff. And we know they use financial donations as leverage, to discourage American universities from hosting speakers with views the Chinese Communist Government doesn’t like.

But let me be clear: We are not suggesting that all, or even most, Chinese students, professors, and researchers are somehow up to no good. There is no question that we benefit greatly from foreign researchers in our academic institutions. However, some of them are exploiting this collaborative environment, as illustrated by this case, and it needs to stop.

We want our academic and private sector partners to reach out to us if they see something that concerns them. We’re going to keep working to build trusted relationships with them, so that they know—with confidence—that we’re here to help.

I’d like to thank the agents and analysts from all the respective agencies standing before you today who worked incredibly hard on this investigation, as well as U.S. Attorney Lelling and his prosecutors for their continued partnership and support. This was truly a team effort.