US Federal prosecutors have charged four Chinese nationals with visa fraud for lying about their status as members of the Chinese Army, while they were conducting research in the US, the justice department said.
The FBI has arrested three of them, while the fourth, who is a fugitive, is currently being harboured at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, it said.
Each defendant has been charged with visa fraud. If convicted, they face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of USD 250,000.
In addition to the arrests, the FBI has recently conducted interviews of visa holders suspected of having undeclared affiliation with the Chinese military in more than 25 US cities.
"These members of China's People Liberation Army (PLA) 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. We will continue to conduct this investigation together with the FBI," he said.
Noting that the US welcomes students, academics, and researchers from across the globe, John Brown, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI's National Security Branch, said that the announcement shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government has gone to infiltrate and exploit US' benevolence.
According to a complaint that was unsealed in the Northern District of California on June 8 and court documents filed on June 11, Xin Wang entered the country on March 26, 2019, after receiving a J1 non-immigrant visa in December 2018.
Xin's visa application stated that the purpose of his visit was to conduct scientific research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
He is alleged to have made fraudulent statements on the visa application. Specifically, Wang stated that he had served as an Associate Professor in Medicine in the PLA, from September 1, 2002-September 1, 2016.
In reality, when interviewed by officers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Los Angeles Airport on June 7, Wang said that he was, in fact, still currently a "Level 9" technician in the PLA, employed by a military university lab, which, according to CBP, roughly corresponds with the rank of a Major.
According to court documents, Wang was still employed by the PLA while he was studying in the US, and made false statements about his military service.
According to court documents unsealed in the Eastern District of California on July 20, Juan Tang, a researcher at the University of California at Davis, applied for a non-immigrant J1 visa on or about October 28, 2019. The visa was issued in November 2019, and Juan came to the US on December 27, 2019. She is alleged to have made fraudulent statements on her visa application. Specifically to the question, "have you ever served in the military?" Juan responded "No."
Juan is a uniformed officer of the PLA Air Force, the justice department said.
The FBI found a photograph of Juan in a military uniform and references to her employment at the Air Force Military Medical University, which has also been known as the Fourth Military Medical University.
The FBI interviewed Juan on June 20. Although she denied having been a member of the military, another photograph of her in a different PLA uniform was found on electronic media.
The FBI is seeking to arrest Juan, who has sought refuge at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, pursuant to an arrest warrant and complaint that were filed on June 26, and unsealed on July 20.
According to the affidavit, Chen Song, 38, a Chinese national, applied for a J1 non-immigrant visa in November 2018 and entered the US on December 23, 2018. In her visa application, in response to the question, "have you ever served in the military," Song stated that she had served in the Chinese military only from September 1-June 30, 2011 and her employer was "Xi Diaoyutai Hospital."
Chen described herself in her visa application as a neurologist who was coming to the US to conduct research at Stanford University related to brain disease.
The affidavit alleges that she was a member of the PLA when she entered and while she was in the US and the hospital she listed on her visa as her employer was a cover for her true employer, the PLA.
The affidavit identifies four research articles that she co-authored, which described her as affiliated with institutions subordinate to the PLA Air Force.
Specifically, the articles list Chen as affiliated with the Air Force General Hospital in Beijing and the Fourth Military Medical University.
According to a complaint filed in the Southern District of Indiana on July 17, Kaikai Zhao, a graduate student studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at Indiana University, applied for an F1 non-immigrant visa in June 2018. In the visa application, Kaikai mentioned never serving in the military.
According to the complaint, Kaikai 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.
Kaikai also attended the Aviation University of Air Force (AUAF), which is a Chinese military academy analogous to the US Air Force Academy. AUAF students are active military service members who receive military training. In addition, the FBI located an online photograph of Kaikai wearing a PLAAF uniform.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)