(CN) — A Chinese medical researcher accused of sharing secrets with the Chinese military on a U.S. government-funded laboratory project in San Francisco was arrested in Los Angeles this week and charged with lying on his visa application.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday, Xin Wang was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday as he attempted to board a flight to Tianjin, China.
He told Customs and Border Patrol agents in an interview that he currently works as a “Level 9 technician” for the Chinese military, an admission that contradicts information he provided on his December 2018 visa application.
Wang stated in that application that he previously worked as an associate professor of medicine for China’s People’s Liberation Army from September 2002 to September 2016. After obtaining a J1 visa for visiting scholars, Wang started working on a U.S. government-funded medical research project at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Wang stated that he intentionally made false statements about his military service in his visa application in order to increase the likelihood that he would receive his J1 visa,” FBI special agent Patrick Fogerty wrote in a 5-page criminal complaint.
Wang told CBP agents that his boss, the director of a military university lab in China, told him to observe the layout of a UCSF laboratory and bring back information on how to replicate it in China. Wang was carrying studies from UCSF with him as he attempted to fly to China on Sunday, and he had previously emailed research to a Chinese military lab, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Wang also told his supervising UCSF professor that he had replicated some of that professor’s work at a laboratory in China, according to federal prosecutors.
Some of the research Wang was working on at the UCSF lab was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health. Neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor UCSF could confirm if that research pertained to the Covid-19 virus.
Prosecutors say Wang wiped the history from his WeChat messaging app the morning he arrived at LAX, presumably erasing evidence of his communications with Chinese military officials.
Wang had received a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council and a stipend from the Chinese military while he was studying in the United States, according to the criminal complaint.
The Chinese researcher faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for visa fraud.
Wang made his first appearance in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Choolijan. He is scheduled to be back in Choolijan’s court for a detention hearing Friday morning.
Though he was arrested and detained in Los Angeles, the criminal complaint was filed in the Northern District of California federal court, which is based in San Francisco.
Wang has no attorney listed as representing him in public court filings, and he could not be reached for comment. The University of California San Francisco did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday afternoon.