KUALA LUMPUR: A prominent scientist, believed to be a Malaysian, has been charged with wire fraud in the United States.
The US Justice Department believes Prof Simon Ang Saw Teong, 63, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, committed the offence in 2016 by submitting a proposal to Nasa for a contract worth more than US$500,000, without disclosing potential conflicts of interest associated with his hidden involvement with Chinese entities.
His proposal was ultimately selected by Nasa, according to a CNN report.
If convicted, federal officials said Prof Ang faced a statutory maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.The Arkansas Democrat Gazette online reported that Ang was arrested on May 8 and was released on May 29 on a US$200,000 bond to home detention.
According to records from US District Court in Fayetteville, he was held at the Washington County Detention Centre.
Ang, a professor cum researcher at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville since 1988, was charged with defrauding Nasa and the university “by failing to disclose that he held other positions at a Chinese university and Chinese companies” in violation of conflict of interest policies. This was according to a criminal complaint and affidavit obtained by CNN.
The FBI affidavit said authorities discovered Ang’s alleged ties to Chinese interests after a university employee attempted to identify the owner of a hard drive that was placed in lost-and-found at a campus library.
While reviewing the contents of the hard drive, which were later turned over to the FBI, the affidavit said the employee discovered an email exchange between Ang and a visiting researcher from Xidian University in Xi’an, China.
In the September 2018 email discussion, Ang wrote that things were becoming difficult for him because of the current political climate, according to the affidavit seen by CNN.
Ang was quoted as saying: “You can search the Chinese website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent Scholars.
“Not many people here know I am one of them but if this leaks out, my job here will be in deep troubles (sic), ” reported CNN.
According to the FBI, those associated with China’s Thousand Talents programme are individuals who work or study outside of China in high-priority research fields.
While not traditional spies, investigators said they were nevertheless collecting research information sought by Chinese authorities.
A WhatsApp text has since gone viral, claiming Ang had studied in Chung Ling High School in Penang up to Form Three before joining Penang Technical Institute and continued his tertiary education in the US.
However, a check with the Penang Chung Ling Alumni Association showed that the electrical engineering professor was not listed in the alumni directory.
“His name is not in the alumni list. He is not in our group, and neither do we have his name in our record, ” said the association secretary who wanted to be known as P’ng when contacted.