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Ex-Harvard Postdocs Jailed for Alleged Theft

Two former Harvard University researchers face up to 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine for allegedly conspiring to steal Harvard-owned trade secrets and for shipping university property across state lines. The defendants--a Chinese citizen named Jiang Yu Zhu and his Japanese partner Kayoko Kimbara--were arrested 19 June and are in jail in California pending extradition to Massachusetts. A Monday hearing in San Diego will determine whether they can be freed on bail.

Zhu became a research fellow in a cell biology lab at Harvard Medical School led by Frank McKeon in 1997, and Kimbara started in McKeon's lab the following year. Both signed a document releasing all rights to any invention or discovery made at Harvard.

According to the 12-page FBI complaint, the pair screened genes and proteins to find new agents to help prevent organ transplant rejections. But the complaint alleges that they kept some of their results secret, sent reagents to a Japanese company with intent to commercialize, and shipped lab materials to the University of Texas, San Antonio, when they moved there in late 2000. The pair left Texas last year and were living in California at the time of their arrest.

The complaint does not mention, however, that Harvard officials highly recommended Zhu for his next job, at the University of Texas, despite longstanding suspicions about the couple's behavior. The complaint also neglects to note that Harvard declined to conduct a formal investigation into alleged scientific misconduct by the pair.

Harvard officials declined to comment, although a spokesperson said that the school recovered most of the materials and conducted an informal rather than formal investigation. John Fielding, the lawyer representing Zhu, also had no comment and as of 21 June had yet to meet with his client. The government will seek to extradite the defendants to Massachusetts, after which a grand jury will be impaneled to endorse the government's case for a trial, which likely won't happen for several months.