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A former rheumatologist and Ohio State University researcher arrested in May 2020 for his role in an immunology research fraud program was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Last November, Song Guo Zheng pleaded guilty to lying on federal research grant applications to earn more than $ 4 million (£ 2.8 million) from his research group from the U.S. National Institutes of Health ( NIH) could use for the development of expertise in rheumatology and immunology for the Chinese government. As part of his May 14 prison sentence, Zheng has to repay more than $ 3.4 million to the NIH and about $ 413,000 to Ohio State University.

According to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, Zheng has been participating in the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents program since 2013 – a program to recruit and promote high-profile scientists. He tried to hide his participation in the talent program and affiliation with a Chinese university under the control of the Chinese government, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said.

When Zheng was arrested last year, he was in Anchorage, Alaska, on a private flight to China. He had a briefcase with two laptops, three cell phones, several USB sticks, silver bars, expired passports for his family members and certificates for real estate in China, according to the DOJ. Before joining Ohio State University, he worked at the University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University.

“The defendant has been silent about his participation in the Chinese government’s talent recruitment programs for years and hid his connections to at least five research institutions in China,” said Alan Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division. “Zheng greedily accepted federal research funding and prevented others from funding critical research in support of medical advances.”

Lamont Pugh III, the special agent responsible for the Inspectorate General of the US Department of Health in Chicago, emphasized that reporting potential conflicts of interest in applying for grants through the NIH and other US government research funding agencies is critical. “False statements to cover up potential conflicts are against that trust and the law,” he warned, noting that his office is committed to the proper use of taxpayers’ money by identifying and investigating cases where individuals fail to report their sources of research support .

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