Zaosong Zheng, a Chinese national and J-1 visa holder, is being held without bail pending prosecution for his alleged attempt to smuggle cancer research material to China. Mr. Zheng, a medical researcher employed by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, was detained by federal agents who found vials of biological material in his checked luggage for a Beijing flight. According to a recent motion filed by the government, the prosecution contends that Mr. Zheng admitted to stealing the vials, intending to bring them to a Chinese hospital and publish the research as his own.

Mr. Zheng was charged with making a false statement, but according to the government’s motion, he could also be charged with theft of trade secrets and transportation of stolen goods in foreign commerce pending the results of testing on the vials. The FBI interviewed Mr. Zheng’s former roommate and learned that two of his colleagues had recently succeeded in smuggling biologic materials to China. This led federal prosecutors to believe Mr. Zheng’s theft was not an isolated incident, but rather, “a coordinated crime, with likely involvement by the Chinese government.”

Recently, several foreign researchers were intercepted at Logan International Airport for hiding biologic materials in their luggage. Mr. Zheng’s arrest and others like it are prime examples of the federal government’s enforcement agenda with regard to intellectual property theft by Chinese nationals. The Department of Justice launched its China Initiative in 2018 to combat economic espionage perpetrated by Chinese actors (U.S. Justice Department Announces China Trade Secret Initiative).

TIP: The investigation of intellectual property theft by people and entities connected with China continues to be a top priority for the Department.