University reinstates professor acquitted of ties to China

February 3, 2022 GMT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has reinstated a professor who was acquitted of federal charges that had accused him of hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving NASA research grants.

Nanotechnology expert Anming Hu returned to UT this week with tenure, his lawyer Phil Lomonaco told the Knoxville News Sentinel. He received $300,000 worth of funding to restart his research program and has been provided similar lab space.

Hu was arrested in February 2020, charged with wire fraud and making false statements. The case went to trial last June, but the jury deadlocked. Prosecutors had filed a notice that they intended to retry the case, but the judge acquitted Hu in September.

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The arrest was part of a broader Justice Department crackdown under then-President Donald Trump’s administration against university researchers suspected of concealing their ties to Chinese institutions.

Hu began working for UT Knoxville in 2013 and later was invited by another professor to help apply for a research grant from NASA. That grant application was not successful, but two later applications were. A 2012 law forbids NASA from collaborating with China or Chinese companies. The government has interpreted that prohibition to include Chinese universities, and Hu was a faculty member at the Beijing University of Technology in addition to his position at UT.

Prosecutors tried to show that Hu deliberately hid his position at the Chinese university when applying for the NASA-funded research grants. Hu’s attorney, Philip Lomonaco, argued at trial that Hu didn’t think he needed to list his part-time summer job on a disclosure form and said no one at UT ever told him otherwise.

The judge ruled that, even assuming Hu intended to deceive about his affiliation with that second university, there is no evidence that Hu intended to harm NASA. The judge also noted that NASA got the research from Hu that it paid for, and there was no evidence that Hu took any money from China or had anyone in China work on the projects.

Additionally, the judge cited evidence that NASA’s funding restrictions were unclear.

Lomonaco told the Knoxville News Sentinel after the acquittal that Hu wanted his job back.