Three New York University researchers from China face commercial bribery charges after allegedly providing information about MRI-related research to Chinese competitors in return for rent, tuition and other expenses.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Yudong Zhu, Xing Yang, and Ye Li worked on research related to improving MRI technology that was funded by a multi-million dollar federal grant from the National Institutes of Health. Each is alleged to having undisclosed affiliations with United Imaging Healthcare, a Chinese medical imaging company, as well as the Shenzen Institute of Advanced Technology, a Chinese government-sponsored research outfit.
"As alleged, this is a case of inviting and paying for foxes in the henhouse," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in an announcement. "These defendants allegedly colluded with representatives from a Chinese governmental entity and a direct competitor of the university for which they worked to illegally acquire NIH-funded research for the benefit of those entities, as described in the complaint. The defendants also allegedly deceived the university and others about their professional allegiances to competing Chinese interests. The acquisition of federally funded research for the benefit of these Chinese entities is a serious crime and will not be tolerated by this office."
According to the complaint, Zhu was described as "an accomplished researcher and innovator in the field of MRI technology" who was hired as associate professor of radiology at NYU Langone Medical Center in 2008. NYU conducted an internal investigation regarding the activities of the three researchers as it related to the NIH grant. It was during that investigation that the university found out about the researchers' connection with United Imaging and the Chinese research institute.
Surveillance cameras also captured Yang taking photos of equipment in a research area, and the university determined that on "numerous occasions" Yang and Zhu corresponded via email with individuals from United Imaging about "issues related to MRI equipment prototypes, experiments and project updates."
All three were confronted by the university on May 8, after a review of the findings. Li stated that he was paid "thousands of dollars" by the Shenzen Institute in 2013, and has been a research professor there since January. Yang, meanwhile, admitted he had been reimbursed approximately $20,000 in tuition expenses by an unidentified co-conspirator.
According to the Associated Press, NYU Langone Medical Center spokesman Christopher Rucas said the medical center was "deeply disappointed by the news of the alleged conduct by its employees" and that they had been suspended.
The charge of commercial bribery conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Zhu also is charged with one count of falsifying records in connection with the NIH grant, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence.