The Biden administration has dismissed charges against five Chinese military officers who lied about their backgrounds in visa applications to carry out research in the United States.
According to Breitbart, the administration said that it is no longer “in the interest of justice” to prosecute the defendants, who were arrested by the Trump administration last year.
Citing “recent developments,” Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) decided that the researchers have been punished sufficiently for the visa fraud while in detention, the Wall Street Journal reported.
DOJ didn’t want charges to delay return
The penalty for their crimes is typically a few months in prison and further prosecution would needlessly delay their departure to China, the DOJ said. The decision, revealed in court filings last week, came just in time for Tang Juan, whose trial was to start Monday.
A visiting cancer researcher at the University of California, Tang denied ever serving in the Chinese military — a claim belied by images of Tang in her military uniform, as Breitbart notes.
The others, according to the Journal, are Chen Song, a neurologist at Stanford University; Guan Lei, a researcher in artificial intelligence at UCLA; Zhao Kaikai, an artificial intelligence doctoral student at Indiana University; and Wang Xin, a visiting biomedical researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
According to reports, Wang was still a major in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) when he entered the United States with instructions from a supervisor in China to bring back certain information.
His admission to authorities that he lied about his military background in his visa application led to the arrests of the other researchers and set off a diplomatic crisis, including the closing of a Houston consulate and the departure of some 1,000 military researchers back to China, the Journal noted.
Counter-espionage marred by controversy
The FBI may have bungled its cases against Tang and another researcher by failing to inform them of their rights against self-incrimination, and the bureau cast doubts about the fraud cases in a memo stating that the visa applications may “[lack] clarity,” the Journal reports.
Despite their PLA association, it is possible the researchers thought of themselves as civilians and had no malicious intent, the FBI said.
According to Axios, the Biden administration said that it “continues to place a very high priority on countering the threat posed to American research security and academic integrity by the PRC government’s agenda and policies.”
The Trump administration made countering Chinese influence, surveillance, and intellectual property theft a top priority. But the counter-espionage effort has not gone entirely smoothly. The FBI recently admitted to falsely accusing a former Tennessee-based professor of spying and placing him on a no-fly list. His case reportedly ended in a mistrial.