Chinese professor at US University charged with using his position to benefit Huawei by stealing technology, pleads guilty

Professor Bo Mao (Image credit: WSJ)

A Chinese professor working as a Researcher at the Texas-Arlington University, accused by US prosecutors in using his position to steal American technology to benefit the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has pled guilty to lying to FBI agents on Friday. While the Chinese professor, Bo Mao, has pleaded guilty, reports indicate that he will be allowed to return to China prosecutors decided not to pursue a more serious charge.

Mao, 37, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of making a false statement in a video appearance before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn. He is expected to be sentenced to time served and leave the United States on December 16th. He was in custody for six days after his arrest.

Bo Mao was arrested in August 2019 when he was the visiting professor at the University of Texas. He was at the time charged with conspiring to defraud Silicon Valley’s CNEX Labs. Even though Bo Mao was looking at a sentence extending up to 20 years in prison, despite admitting that he lied to the FBI, will be allowed to travel back to China.

Reportedly, Mao was originally accused of ‘entering into an agreement with an unidentified company to use its circuit board for research and sharing the proprietary information with a Chinese company’. It was later revealed that the ‘unidentified company’ was CNEX Labs and the ‘Chinese company’ was Huawei. According to WSJ, he had also lied about whether anyone at the Texas university possessed certain unique technology.

Mao had earlier told the FBI that he did not know anyone at the board of University of Texas, however, he admitted that it was a lie since he did seek access to them. The prosecutor in Court said that Mao and his lies had hidden the extent to which he had gone to steal technology that would then benefit his company, Huawei.

The arrest of the professor from the University of Texas took place before Brooklyn federal prosecutors added trade-secret-theft charges to their 2018 indictment against Huawei.

It is pertinent to note that in 2018, Huawei and its finance chief, Meng Wanzhou, were charged with misleading banks about business in Iran. The charges added in February include theft of CNEX’s trade secrets. While that case is still pending in Brooklyn, it is also important to note that in 2019, a jury had found that Huawei did indeed misappropriate CNEX’s secrets.

The indictment of Bo Mao comes as the United States of America is cracking down on the deep infiltration of China into US Universities, including Universities like Harvard and Stanford. It was found that China had infiltrated these Universities and was running a spy ring here.

A few months ago, the top US universities, such as Princeton and Harvard, decided to allot code names to Chinese students to protect their identities following Communist Party of China (CCP) new censorship rules on its students barring them to debate on topics that it deems controversial.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the Chinese nationals studying at Harvard and Princeton universities will be using code names to shield their identities this semester as a protection measure against surveillance by China’s Communist government. The university classes will also carry warning labels such as “This course may cover material considered politically sensitive by China”. 

Interestingly, nearly 115 colleges received monetary gifts, contracts or both from sources in mainland China from 2013 to 2019, according to US government data. Harvard University alone received a whopping amount of $93.7 million, the majority as gifts. The University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania were second and third in the list of receiving millions of Chinese donations. Another university  Middle Tennessee State University also received $1.1 million in contracts, almost all of it for a Chinese music and culture centre that opened in 2016.

The sudden influx of Chinese money into US universities had prompted US security agencies to stay on high alert. They had even launched an investigation into Yale and Harvard universities for not disclosing millions of dollars in gifts and contracts from foreign donors, especially China.

OpIndia Staff: Staff reporter at OpIndia