Mystery Man Set to Bail Out Chinese Scholar in U.S. Sweep

A Chinese researcher jailed in California is on the cusp of being released because an anonymous benefactor stepped up to post bail and offered to house her.

Her case was also helped by the judge handling her case, who on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ argument that she’s part of a “grand conspiracy” of international espionage.

The latest curious twist in the case of a scholar who spent weeks holed up in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco before she was arrested came in a phone conference in Sacramento federal court in her renewed request to be released while she awaits trial.

A lawyer identified only as “Mr. C” told the judge he’s willing to post $500,000 home equity to secure a bond that would allow Juan Tang to be freed on bail. Her imprisonment on charges of visa fraud and concealing her military service have helped fuel tension between China and the U.S.

Prosecutors have argued that if Tang is let out of jail, the Chinese government might help her escape.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it was unaware of the move by Mr. C. and urged the U.S. to safeguard Tang’s health, safety and rights.

“China’s position on U.S. law enforcement authorities acts to harass or even detain Chinese students is consistent,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing in Beijing. “We will take all necessary measures to protect the legal interests and rights of Chinese citizens.”

‘Trying to Help’

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman said he was “astounded” that Mr. C would risk his family’s well-being for someone he’d never spoken to or seen before Thursday.

“I want to make sure that they realize, and Dr. Tang realizes, that if she takes off, they’re screwed -- they’re going to lose their home,” Newman said. The judge said he’s inclined to grant Tang’s release if Mr. C agrees to post $750,000, telling him to think it over and return to court Friday.

Mr. C offered an emotional response, pausing at times to collect himself, as he explained how he immigrated from China and lived in the mid-West before eventually earning U.S. citizenship. The transition was crucially aided by the Chinese-American community, he said.

“In a way it’s like we’re trying to help her understand the system,” Mr. C said, referring to Tang, adding that he’s taught his children to help when required. “I’m not second guessing whether she’s guilty or not.”

Newman said his decision had as much to do with his doubts about the U.S. government’s allegations as the terms of the bail. Tang, 37, is being held in county jail in Sacramento, near where she did cancer research at University of California at Davis. She is among Chinese scholar visa holders in more than 25 American cities who the Justice Department suspects of having an “undeclared affiliation” with the Chinese military.

Tang, like other Chinese scientists and academics recently accused of lying about their military service, is charged with visa fraud -- not espionage. According to the U.S., she could get 16 months for the violation. Newman said the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed trials and that he’s reluctant to keep Tang locked up when she might end up serving more time in prison fighting her case than a conviction might earn her.

“There’s an allegation that there’s a grand conspiracy,” Newman said, referring to Tang’s case and other similar prosecutions. “There are strong implications expressed by the government that Dr. Tang was involved in espionage, however she’s not charged with espionage.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heiko Coppola told the judge that Tang’s mother and daughter recently departed the U.S. for China, where her husband lives.

“They have not once talked to Dr. Tang, they are seeing her for the first time today,” the prosecutor said, referring to Mr. C’s family. “This is really a case like no other in terms of her lack of ties to the community -- notwithstanding Mr. C and his family and their offer.”

The case is U.S. v. Juan, 20-cr-00134, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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