New York University (NYU) associate professor of radiology Yudong Zhu and NYU graduate student Xing Yang, both Chinese citizens, were arrested on 19 May on federal bribery charges in connection with an alleged conspiracy to pass nonpublic information from research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to a Chinese company with ties to the Chinese government. A third Chinese citizen and NYU researcher charged in the case, Ye Li, reportedly returned to China before federal prosecutors brought the charges. Zhu and Yang were released on bond. NYU has suspended all three.
The three had "colluded with representatives from a Chinese government entity and a direct competitor of the university for which they worked to illegally acquire N.I.H.-funded research for the benefit of those entities," charged U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, as quoted by The New York Times. In a statement, NYU called itself "deeply disappointed" by its employees' actions, the Times added. The university had reportedly discovered the offenses and brought them to the authorities' attention.
According to the charges, Zhu, an expert in magnetic resonance imaging technology, received NIH research funding and then brought the other defendants, both described as engineers, from China to work on the project. Through an arrangement that Zhu allegedly devised with an executive at United Imaging Healthcare, a Chinese MRI company, the firm paid expenses including graduate school tuition, apartment rental, and travel for Yang and Li. A prosecutor told the court that Zhu had admitted getting nearly $500,000 in the scheme, the Times reported.
In exchange, the company received restricted information about Zhu's NYU research. Reuters reports that while doing that research at NYU, "Zhu, meanwhile, had been working with the United Imaging executive leading a similar MRI research project funded by the Chinese government, the [criminal] complaint said." The complaint added that the executive and Zhu had earlier worked together on Chinese government-supported research at the Shenzen Institute of Advanced Technology.