Chinese researcher released on bail as prosecutor seeks to return her to custody
By SAM STANTON | The Sacramento Bee | Published: September 12, 2020
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The Chinese researcher accused of lying about her ties to China’s military to gain access to a lab at UC Davis has been released on bail from the Sacramento County Main Jail, but federal officials have renewed their efforts to return her to custody as a flight risk.
Dr. Juan Tang, a cancer researcher who was arrested by the FBI in July after spending nearly a month in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, was released from jail late Thursday after a Bay Area attorney agreed to put up $750,000 in his home equity as bail.
The lawyer, whose identity had remained a mystery until this week, was identified as Foster City resident Steven Cui, a civil attorney and emigre from China who had never before met or spoken to Tang but said he wanted to offer help to show that the U.S. justice system works fairly.
Tang has been ordered to spend 14 days in a COVID-19 quarantine at Cui’s home and not leave the home after that without permission from pretrial services officials.
She also has been ordered not to apply for a passport to replace the one seized by the FBI in June and told that she “may only consult with officials of the People’s Republic of China at the consulate only in the presence of counsel via telephone or video-conference.”
Tang’s release was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman, who warned Cui that he faced the loss of his home if Tang flees to China, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Heiko Coppola filed a motion in federal court in Sacramento asking another judge to overturn Newman’s order and return Tang to jail.
“The situation presented in the present case is unprecedented, which Judge Newman recognized,” Coppola wrote in a motion to U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez. “Here, Mr. and Mrs. Cui do not know Tang in any capacity — personally or professionally.”
Coppola argued that Tang’s case is one of several nationwide in which Chinese researchers have been accused or charged with lying about their ties to China’s military to gain access to some of the most prestigious universities in the United States. He also maintains that she has absolutely no reason to stay once released.
“Because there is no relationship between the parties, Tang loses absolutely nothing of value to her if she flees the United States,” he wrote. “Mr. Cui and his family assume all of the risk for Tang’s flight.
“Moreover, because the United States has no extradition treaty with the People’s Republic of China, should Tang flee, it is unlikely that she will ever return.”
Tang’s attorneys, Malcolm Segal and Tom Johnson, have argued that she is a respected scientist who would not choose to become an international fugitive in order to escape the possibility of a prison sentence that may be as low as six months with the fraud charges she faces.
They also maintain that the fact she has been seen in photos wearing Chinese military uniforms stems from the fact that she is a civilian who was attending Chinese military schools.
But the government contends FBI agents found ample evidence that she has ties to the People’s Liberation Army-Air Force and communist party and lied about it on her visa application.
“During a later review of the electronic media evidence seized from Tang’s residence, agents discovered a myriad of different photographs of Tang wearing a military uniform,” Coppola wrote. “Agents also found a video depicting a presentation conducted by Tang in which she is wearing what appears to be the PLAAF military uniform found in their open source search, and she begins the presentation with a salute.
“The video presentation was recorded within days of Tang’s entrance into the United States on the J-1 visa.”