Researcher With Ties to Chinese Military Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud and Obstruction

A bench trial is scheduled to start in April for a Chinese woman facing federal charges of lying on a visa application and trying to hide information from investigators.

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A woman accused of concealing her relationship with the Chinese military when she applied to work in the United States as a Stanford University researcher pleaded not guilty to visa fraud and obstruction of justice charges Friday.

Chen Song, a 39-year-old Chinese national, was arrested in July 2020 and charged with one count of lying on her application for a non-immigrant visa to conduct scientific research in the United States.

Last week, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment against Song with four new charges, including obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, and two counts of altering, destroying or concealing records with intent to hide them from a grand jury. The indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation that could require Song to return any property derived from or traceable to allegedly fraudulent statements on her visa application.

During a video-conference hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Laruel Beeler on Friday, Song’s attorney John Hemann of Cooley LLP entered a not guilty plea to all counts on behalf of his client. Song briefly spoke through a Chinese interpreter to acknowledge that she understood the charges and potential punishments.

According to an FBI agent’s affidavit filed this past July, Song first entered the country to work at Stanford University in December 2018 using a J-1 non-immigrant visa, a visa type common for international researchers looking to study in the United States.

When Song submitted her visa application, she reportedly described herself as a neurologist who wanted to study brain diseases in the United States. While she acknowledged in her application that she served in the Chinese military from 2000 to 2011, she claimed that her current employer was Xi Diaoyutai Hospital and listed her highest rank as “Student.”

Law enforcement officials say these statements were false. They claim Song was still an active member of China’s People’s Liberation Army when she entered the country and that the hospital she listed as her employer was cover-up for where she actually worked — a military air force hospital in Beijing.

Prosecutors also claim that last year, shortly after another Chinese national was charged with visa fraud in California, Song scrambled to cover her tracks and delete evidence linking her to the Chinese military.

Officials say she tried to delete an entire folder of data on a hard drive that contained Song’s resume, a picture of her military credentials, an image of her in full military dress and a letter addressed to the People’s Republic of China consulate in New York in which she reportedly acknowledged lying about her employer on her visa application.

Prosecutors say this photo of Chen Song in a Chinese military uniform was deleted from a Chinese Air Force hospital website after Song became aware that U.S. investigators were looking into her. (Photo from criminal complaint)

Officials further allege that after Song caught wind of the investigation into her, evidence linking her to the military air force hospital in Beijing began to disappear from the internet and that Song personally deleted a series of emails containing information on her military connections.

Last week, FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair, who heads the agency’s San Francisco field office, said federal law enforcement is focused on catching individuals who use deceptive means to access sensitive research information at American colleges and universities.

“The FBI is committed to protecting academic institutions in the Bay Area from [People’s Republic of China] military officers who knowingly and willfully lie about their military affiliations to access American research and development,” Fair said. “We will exhaust all investigative techniques and measures to ensure the safety, security, and hard work of American universities.”

Song studied neurological disorders at Stanford with a focus on myasthenia gravis, a disorder that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles that can impair movement and function. 

Song has not been accused of spying but of misrepresenting her work history on a visa application submitted in 2018. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison for visa fraud, 20 years for each obstruction charge and up to five years for lying to the FBI.

On Friday, Song submitted documentation waiving her right to a jury trial. A bench trial is scheduled to start on April 12.

Song is scheduled to appear in court before U.S. District Judge William Alsup for a status conference on March 2.

In an emailed statement, Song’s attorney emphasized that the indictment only contains allegations related to “background statements” on a visa application and does not allege that Song took or intended to take intellectual property or did anything else improper in her work at Stanford.

“Dr. Song looks forward to answering these charges at trial before Judge Alsup on April 12,” Hemann said. “She has waived her right to a jury trial in order to move this case forward as expeditiously as possible so that she can be reunited with her daughter and husband.”

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