An Ohio man and professor of rheumatology and researcher with close ties to China has been sentenced to 37 months in prison for making false statements to federal authorities during an application for federal research funding, the U.S. Department of Justice announced through a statement May 14. The expert involved, Zheng Songguo, who pleaded guilty in court last November, was also ordered to pay more than $3.4 million in restitution to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and about $413,000 to Ohio State University.
The U.S. Department of Justice describes Zheng Songguo, 58, as having been arrested on May 22, 2020, while en route to a connecting flight to China. He arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, on a charter flight that day and was about to board another charter flight back to China. Zheng Songguo had “three large pieces of luggage, a small suitcase, a suitcase with two laptop computers, three cell phones, several USB hard drives, several silver ingots, several expired Chinese passports used by his family and Chinese land deeds.”
Zheng Songguo was arrested and sent to the Southern District of Ohio for trial and made his initial appearance in federal court in Columbus last July. He pleaded guilty last November and admitted to making false statements on an application for U.S. federal research funding in order to use an estimated $4.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop Chinese expertise in the fields of rheumatology and immunology. Zheng Songguo, a professor of internal medicine, was responsible for leading a team conducting autoimmune research at Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University, according to court documents. He has participated in the Chinese government’s talent program since 2013. Following the case, Songguo Zheng was fired from Ohio State University last year.
In response, John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security at the U.S. Department of Justice, said, “In yet another case involving the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Program, Songguo Zheng will spend the next 37 months in federal prison because he chose to lie and conceal his participation in the Thousand Talents Program from U.S. research funding agencies. ” U.S. research funds are provided by U.S. taxpayers for the benefit of American society, not as an illegal gift to the Chinese government,” he said. The American people deserve complete transparency when federal funds are provided for research, and we will continue to hold accountable those who choose to misrepresent their foreign government ties in an attempt to defraud them of those funds.”