Chinese animal cloner charged with misuse of funds

Chinese anticorruption officials have confirmed that a prominent animal cloning researcher is under arrest for improper use of research funds. Li Ning, a professor at China Agricultural University and a member of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), was previously reported to have been under investigation.

The announcement of Li’s arrest was buried in a lengthy bulletin published on 10 October on the website of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). The bulletin summarized problems discovered by an inspection team sent in by the Chinese Communist Party’s disciplinary arm. According to MOST, Li was one of seven scientists from five universities who misused funds totaling 25 million yuan (about $4 million). The ministry did not give details on their alleged malfeasance; all had received funding from major research projects administered by MOST.

Two of the scientists have already received long prison sentences. Chen Yingxu, a prominent water researcher with Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, was convicted of embezzling $1.54 million of grant money and sentenced to 10 years in prison after his trial in January. Chen headed a research program under MOST’s “water pollution control and treatment” project. The other is Song Maoqiang, formerly executive dean of software engineering at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. Song was tried in February, convicted of embezzlement of $110,000 in research funds, and sentenced to 10.5 years in prison. Song’s funding came from MOST’s “key electronic devices, high-end chips and fundamental software development” project. Three researchers funded under the “major drug discovery” project are also in custody, and one other researcher, a colleague of Song’s, has not been charged.

Li is the highest profile scientist arrested so far. His research was funded under a major project to use transgenic technology to breed new varieties of crops and livestock. Aside from a likely prison sentence if he is convicted, Li faces possible expulsion from the CAE. The academy didn’t respond to a request for comment, but CAE spokesman Dong Qingjiu told China’s official news agency Xinhua that it will act according to its bylaws and seriously deal with Li’s case once the judiciary system renders a verdict. CAE’s bylaws stipulate that members can be expelled if convicted of a crime.