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Neuroscientist Li Xiao-Jiang, who has been charged by the U.S. government with fraud, worked at Emory University.

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Ex-Emory scientist with ties to China charged with fraud

A former Emory University neuroscientist has been charged with defrauding the U.S. government by taking a salary from a Chinese institution while also being paid through research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The charges against Li Xiao-Jiang were filed on 21 November 2019 in U.S. district court in Atlanta and were first reported yesterday by NBC News. Li and his wife, Li Shihua, worked at Emory’s medical school for 23 years before being dismissed in May 2019 for failing “to fully disclose … the extent of their work” in China. One week later, the couple defended themselves in an interview with ScienceInsider.

In November 2018, NIH asked Emory to investigate the actions of the couple, who use animal models to study Huntington disease. The NIH letter was part of the agency’s ongoing probe of nearly 200 academic researchers thought to have violated policies requiring disclosure of all sources of research support. As with many of the cases, Li Xiao-Jiang was a participant in China’s Thousand Talents Program, one of several programs that has recruited thousands of foreign scientists over the past decade.

According to the government’s complaint, Li agreed in late 2011 to become a research team leader at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s (CAS’s) Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology. He promised to spend 2 years building up his research lab and then, starting in 2014, to devote 9 months a year to that work.

In February 2015, according to a letter cited in the complaint, Li and Emory officials agreed he would work part-time for the next 2 years, at half of his salary. But the complaint says Li never signed that letter of understanding and instead continued to hold full-time status.

According to the complaint, Li received some $92,000 in salary from three NIH grants in 2015 while simultaneously receiving roughly $80,000 in annual salary from CAS in 2015 and 2016. In January 2019, according to the complaint, Li told Emory officials that he had “overcommitted” his time on those NIH grants. The complaint also says Li was out of the country for roughly 60% of 2015, some 146 days, time in which he was presumably working at the CAS institute. Li is charged with defrauding the U.S. government for $34,888 in salary and fringe benefits.

One of Li’s lawyers, Peter Zeidenberg of Arent Fox, declined to comment on any aspect of the case. NBC News reported that Li posted bond in November 2019 and said a hearing on his case is scheduled for next month.