NASA scientist pleads guilty to participation in China’s Thousand Talent program

According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, a senior NASA scientist has pleaded guilty to lying about his ties to a program that encourages researchers to develop relationships with China in exchange for grants.

Meyya Meyyappan, 66, of Pacifica, California, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan.

According to court filings by prosecutors, Meyyappan participated in China’s Thousand Talents Program, which aims to recruit people familiar with foreign technology and intellectual property, and held professorships at universities in China, South Korea and Japan.

Meyyappan concealed this work from NASA as well as from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, and on October 27, made a false statement to investigators during an interview saying he was not a member of China’s Thousand Talents Program and did not hold the professorship in China.

Meyyappan’s lawyer  did not immediately respond to requests for comment. According to his plea deal, he faces up to six months in prison under recommended federal guidelines at his scheduled June 16 sentencing.

NASA did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

The Justice Department is in the process of eliminating intellectual theft by China through its outreach programs wherein it tries to reach out to and influence foreign researchers towards sharing their research for its strategic benefits. The move is part of Washington’s foreign policy stance towards China.

In January 2020, the DoJ had charged Charles Lieber, the former chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry department, with lying about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Program and research funding that China awarded him.

Lieber has pleaded not guilty.

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