A Chinese professor accused of stealing trade secrets for Huawei Technologies Co (華為) would plead guilty to a reduced charge and be allowed to return to China, lawyers told a US judge on Thursday.
Bo Mao (毛波), a computer science professor at Xiamen University in China and a visiting professor at the University of Texas, would admit to a single count of making a false statement.
US prosecutors would dismiss more serious counts of conspiracy and trade-secrets theft, they said at a hearing at the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The case, initiated last year, was part of a series of moves against Huawei by the the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has portrayed the Chinese telecom giant as a national security threat.
Mao was initially held without bail in a federal prison.
The plea is a setback in the government’s battle against what it alleges is trade-secret theft by Chinese technology companies.
Prosecutors initially accused Mao of stealing a computer chip on behalf of a Chinese telecommunications company while claiming to be doing academic research in 2016.
The government’s case against Mao mirrors allegations CNEX Labs Inc made in a civil suit in which Mao was accused of helping Huawei steal the technology.
The case is part of a broader crackdown by the US Department of Justice targeting Chinese scholars working at US university labs, some of whom have been accused of being “spies” or threats to national security even as they have been charged with more prosaic crimes, such as visa fraud.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, Mao would be sentenced to time served and allowed to return to China, his lawyer, Morris Fodeman, told US District Judge Pamela Chen.
Huawei was previously accused of violating US sanctions against Iran and North Korea, as well as engaging in a 20-year pattern of corporate espionage.
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟) was last year charged with fraud and is currently fighting extradition to the US from Canada.
Meng’s lawyers have argued in court that she did nothing wrong, while Huawei has pleaded not guilty and called the charges “unfounded and unfair.”
The US separately on Thursday announced a similar plea deal with a Chinese professor who admitted to making false statements in grant applications to the US National Institute of Health that concealed his affiliation to a university in China.
Zheng Songguo (鄭頌國), an immunologist at Ohio State University, was described by US prosecutors as having ties to China’s Thousand Talents Plan that the US says is designed to siphon intellectual property.
He was in May charged with making a false statement and fraud or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, an offense punishable by as long as 10 years in prison, and was in July ordered to be held without bail pending trial. The false statement charge he pleaded guilty to carries a maximum term of five years.
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