The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has dropped US visa fraud charges against five Chinese scientists. In 2020, Workpermit.com reported on several instances of Chinese researchers, reportedly with connections to China’s military, charged with US visa fraud and espionage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently filed motions in federal courts to dismiss the charges, brought by the DoJ with the aim of ‘protecting American technology from China’. The so-called ‘China Initiative’ had been blasted by civil liberties groups who described it as ‘racially biased’.
Meanwhile, judges in several court proceedings had become increasingly sceptical about tactics used by the FBI to interrogate the scientists arrested and charged with US visa fraud. The charges were brought against the researchers in 2020. All accused pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying US visa applications to conceal military connections.
The motions to drop charges against the researchers comes following a recent visit to China by the US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman.
The five arrests last year came at a time when US-China relations had slumped to an all time low. However, it’s understood that the world’s two largest economies are now attempting to resolve their differences.
In a statement released by the DoJ, officials said that the cases against the researchers were being dismissed ‘in the interests of justice’.
DoJ spokesperson, Wyn Hornbuckle, said: “Recent developments in a handful of cases involving defendants with alleged, undisclosed ties to the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China have prompted the Department to re-evaluate these prosecutions.”
However, Mr Hornbuckle did not disclose what the ‘developments’ were.
Questions over investigation
According to court documents, two cases included an FBI draft analysis that questioned how useful the investigation was in protecting technology developed in the United States. The documents also said that the US visa application question about military service that trapped the scientists was ambiguous.
The FBI analysis was written in response to the China Tech Transfer Analysis Unit at the FBI being nominated for an award in February for the ‘high impact’ of the ‘arrests of the PLA students’ – PLA referring to the Chinese military.
However, the FBI unit leader disagreed on the impact of the arrests and removed the unit from the award nominations, according to the court documents.
When asked about the court filing, an official at the DoJ sent an email saying that the ‘draft analysis prompted follow up questions and requests from defense counsel that could not be resolved prior to the trial date’.
The DoJ official said: “In most of the cases, the sentences would be a year or less and that the defendants have had their liberty restricted for that time whether in jail or out on bail.”
Lawyers defending those accused said that the only ‘crime’ committed by their clients is falling foul of US-China politics.
One of the lawyers, John Henman – who was representing Chinese brain researcher, Song Chen – said he and Chen were grateful that the case against her had been dropped and that the government had ‘done the right thing’.
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