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Ex-UA professor pleads innocent in fraud case

by Jaime Adame | August 3, 2021 at 6:56 a.m.
Simon Ang

FAYETTEVILLE -- A former University of Arkansas, Fayetteville professor pleaded innocent Monday to wire fraud charges linked to his ties to China and the use of university research facilities.

Simon Ang appeared in court and told U.S. Magistrate Judge Christy Comstock he understood the charges against him, which include 55 counts of wire fraud.

The longtime electrical engineering professor joined UA's faculty in 1988 and led the university's High Density Electronics Center, or HiDEC, at the time of his arrest in May of last year.

An FBI affidavit stated that Ang's "close ties" to the Chinese government and Chinese companies would have made him ineligible for federal research grants he pursued.

Ang appeared in court Monday after a grand jury's superseding indictment filed in court last week included new charges that he used research labs and equipment owned by UA to perform research and development for a Chinese company.

The latest wire fraud counts relate to payments made to a limited liability company company set up by Ang and also UA salary payments made to him, according to the court document.

The new indictment states that Ang was part of the ownership group for a China-based company referred to as "Xzenia," and that he "instructed researchers that he supervised at the University of Arkansas to conduct research and work on behalf of the companies he was affiliated with in China."

Clay Fowlkes, acting U.S. attorney, on Monday told Comstock that "we would like to" stick to a previously set Nov. 8 date for a jury trial.

The indictment also states that a document found saved on a portable hard drive shows Ang received a one-time Thousand Talents Program grant of 1 million yuan, which, according to current exchange rate information, works out to about $150,000.

Last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray gave a talk describing Chinese talent programs as a government effort "to entice scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China."

The U.S. Department of Justice in recent years has pursued economic espionage charges against some researchers working in the U.S., but no such charges have been filed against Ang.

The indictment states that Ang received money from the Chinese government that was deposited into bank accounts controlled by him in China, and that he failed to disclose his receipt of this money to UA or U.S. funding agencies.

Ang was released on a $200,000 bond to home detention on May 29, 2020. His attorney, Drew Ledbetter, declined to comment Monday. A trial date in the case has been set for Nov. 8.

UA suspended Ang after his arrest without pay, then fired him less than two months later.

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