Chinese researcher charged with destroying evidence relating to illegal transfer of US tech

If convicted, the researcher could face up to 20 years of prison time.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has charged a Chinese researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles for allegedly destroying evidence relating to a federal investigation into the possible illegal transfer of US technology to China.

The charged individual, Guan Lei, allegedly threw a hard drive into a dumpster nearby his US residence prior to attempting to board a flight to China. 

The hard drive was recovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after Guan refused a request from the intelligence agency to examine his computer when he attempted to board a flight to China.

Following his refusal of the request, Guan was not allowed to board the flight. 

According to an affidavit filed by the FBI in support of the charge, the hard drive was "irreparably damaged and that all previous data associated with the hard drive appears to have been removed deliberately and by force".

The FBI has since commenced an investigation into whether Guan possibly transferred sensitive US software or technical data to China's National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) or falsely denied his association with the Chinese military when he applied for a visa in 2018, the DoJ said.

As part of the investigation, Guan admitted that he participated in military training and occasionally wore a military uniform when he previously studied at NUDT but claimed he was a normal student.  

In addition to allegedly destroying evidence, Guan has also been accused of concealing digital storage devices from investigators and lying about making any contact with the Chinese consulate during his time in the US.

If charged, Guan could face up a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Guan is the latest Chinese national to be put under investigation for possibly transferring US technology illegally to China, with another being sentenced to two years in prison earlier this year for stealing next-generation battery technology from a US petroleum company.

At the same time, Huawei is currently facing charges for allegedly stealing information on a T-Mobile phone-testing robot called Tappy in order to build its own version.

There has been a surge of these investigations since 2018, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray, when the DoJ launched the China Initiative campaign to counter and investigate Beijing's economic espionage. 

"The FBI has about a thousand investigations involving China's attempted theft of US-based technology in all 56 of our field offices and spanning just about every industry and sector," Wray said earlier this year.

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