Chinese Researcher to Plead Guilty in Harvard Cancer-Cell Case

A Harvard-sponsored Chinese researcher accused by U.S. officials of trying to smuggle 21 vials of cancer cells taken from a Boston hospital has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and will be permitted to return to China, federal prosecutors said.

Smuggling charges will be dropped against Zaosong Zheng in exchange for his plea to one count of making false statements to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents, who found the vials stashed in a sock in his luggage before a flight to Beijing, according to a court filing Tuesday in Boston. The government will recommend a judge order his immediate removal from the U.S.

Zheng is scheduled to plead guilty on Thursday at a hearing via video conference. His attorney, David Duncan, declined to comment.

Under questioning by customs agents in December 2019, Zheng initially denied knowing about the vials but later admitted he stole them from the Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center lab where he worked, according to federal investigators. Harvard withdrew its sponsorship of Zheng following his arrest.

The Zheng case is one of several involving Chinese scientists initially accused of spying or theft in the U.S. but were later allowed to plead to lesser charges.

In November, the Justice Department backed off conspiracy charges in a case against a Chinese computer science professor accused of stealing trade secrets for Huawei Technologies Co. The charges were dropped in exchange for professor Bo Mao’s plea to a single count of making false statements. The U.S. made a similar deal with a Chinese professor working at Ohio State University who admitted making false statement in grant applications to the the National Institute of Health that concealed his affiliation to a university in China.

The case is US v. Zaosong Zheng, 20-cr-10015, U.S. District Court of Massachusetts (Boston).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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