(CN) — The Chinese scientist who had been hiding out in a San Francisco consulate in a bid to evade U.S. authorities was booked into Sacramento County Jail on Friday morning.
Tang Juan, accused of visa fraud by United States authorities, was a researcher working at the University of California, Davis, before abandoning her job following an interview with the FBI regarding her connections to the Chinese military.
Tang’s arrest is the fourth involving a Chinese scientist working in the United States who the federal government has accused of lying on visa applications about their connections to the Chinese Communist Party and/or the Chinese military.
“These members of China’s People Liberation Army applied for research visas while hiding their true affiliation with the PLA,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions.”
A cancer researcher at UC Davis for several months, Tang absconded from the job this week after her interview with law enforcement and the arrest of the three other Chinese nationals on similar accusations of visa fraud.
The FBI said Tang lied on both her visa application and to authorities who interviewed her about her affiliation with the Chinese government and its military. When they presented photographs of her in Chinese military uniforms, Tang said that all students are required to dress that way as part of their participation in the Air Force Military Medical University located in Xi’an, China.
“In fact, Tang is a uniformed officer of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF),” the Justice Department said in a statement Thursday. “ As set forth in the complaint, the FBI found a photograph of Tang in a military uniform and references to Tang’s employment at the Air Force Military Medical University, which has also been known as the Fourth Military Medical University.”
Tang had been hiding out in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco since Thursday at least.
Jail records show the U.S. Marshals arrested Tang overnight and she was booked early Friday morning. She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted.
Authorities said they have interviewed Chinese citizens participating in research in 25 cities across America and believes the four arrests are part of a concerted effort by China to disguise the affiliation of scientists with its government.
Friday’s announcement “shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government has gone to infiltrate and exploit America’s benevolence,” said John Brown, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch.
The arrests reflect a heightening of tensions between the two countries as they compete for the mantle of the world’s largest economy and most influential player in global politics.
This week, federal authorities ordered a Chinese consulate in Houston to close, saying the Chinese Communist Party was using it to conduct espionage under the color of routine diplomatic work.
“China’s Houston consulate is a massive spy center, forcing it to close is long overdue,” said Senator Marco Rubio, R-Texas, on Twitter. Rubio is the acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The three other Chinese researchers arrested on visa fraud charges have not been directly accused of spying for the Chinese government, though authorities say the investigation is ongoing.
Xin Wang was arrested for visa fraud on June 7, the first of the four Chinese researchers to be arrested and charged. Wang was a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who authorities say was still in direct employment of the Chinese government despite saying otherwise on his visa applications and interviews with officials.
“When interviewed by officers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at LAX on June 7, Wang provided information that he was, in fact, still currently a “Level 9” technician in the PLA, employed by a military university lab,” the Justice Department said. “CBP officers also obtained information that this roughly corresponded with the rank of major.”
In addition, authorities say Wang was under direct orders to observe the layout and the operation of the lab at UCSF to “bring back information on how to replicate it in China.”
Chen Song was also arrested for visa fraud after she was accused of lying to federal authorities about her affiliation with the Chinese Air Force. She also attended the Fourth Military Medical University located in Xi-an. Song was studying a rare neurological disease at Stanford when she was arrested. She repeatedly told investigators she was not a member of the Chinese military until she was presented with a photo of herself in military uniform, at which point she stopped participating in the interview.
Authorities say they found a document on her personal computer in which she told someone that she was using a hospital in Beijing as a front to avoid having to disclose her work for military hospitals during her career in China.
“The affidavit identifies four research articles that she co-authored, which described her as affiliated with institutions subordinate to the PLA Air Force,” the justice department said in a statement.
Song entered the United States in December 2018.
Kaikai Zhao was studying artificial intelligence as a graduate student at Indiana University when he was arrested for visa fraud on July 18.
“Zhao served in the National University of Defense Technology, the PLA’s premier institution for scientific research and education, which is directly subordinate to the PRC’s Central Military Commission,” the justice department said. “Zhao also attended the Aviation University of Air Force (AUAF), which is a Chinese military academy analogous to the U.S. Air Force Academy.”
The FBI says it also located photographs of Zhao in military uniform.