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Scientists Allegedly Provided MRI Data to China

NEW YORK—Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have accused three Chinese nationals, including a renowned researcher of magnetic-resonance-imaging technology, of secretly sharing U.S.-funded research with competitors, the latest effort by the government to stem what it describes as illegal exporting of technology overseas.

The criminal case involving the three men who worked at New York University Langone Medical Center follows an internal university probe that involved installing surveillance cameras in their work area, reviewing emails and confiscating their laptops, according to the criminal complaint unsealed Monday. The university became concerned after learning of their undisclosed affiliation with a Chinese firm, the complaint alleged.

Prosecutors accused Yudong Zhu, an associate professor of radiology at NYU Langone, and two other researchers, Xin Yang and Ye Li, of sharing research that was funded by a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, a U.S.-sponsored research agency, with a Chinese company called United Imaging Healthcare and a Chinese government-sponsored research institute, the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology.

The cameras allegedly captured Mr. Zhu taking photos of equipment that was designed by another research team also working on MRI technology at the medical center, according to the complaint. In exchange for details of their research, they were paid secretly by a United Imaging executive, described as a co-conspirator, including in the form of tuition for Mr. Yang, who was in the U.S. on a student visa.

Shenzhen and United Imaging didn't respond to requests for comment Monday. The Chinese Embassy declined to comment.

Mr. Zhu allegedly arranged for Messrs. Yang and Li to move to New York from China to work for him, according to the criminal complaint. Prosecutors declined to say on Monday if the use of a student visa was a new avenue for people seeking to surreptitiously acquire technology in the U.S.

The three men have been suspended by the university. Mr. Li, 31 years old, is allegedly in Hong Kong and hasn't returned to the U.S., according to the complaint. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Mr. Zhu and Mr. Yang, who were arrested on Sunday at their homes in Westchester County, were released on bail on Monday.

Robert Baum, a court-appointed lawyer for Mr. Zhu, 44, described his client as "one of the world's renowned experts on MRI technology." Mr. Baum said Mr. Zhu has been in the U.S. for more than two decades, receiving a Ph.D. from Stanford University and working for years at General Electric Co. GE +1.70% in Schenectady, N.Y.

Fred Cohn, a lawyer for Mr. Yang, 31, who the court said would be subject to electronic monitoring, said his client wasn't a flight risk because his wife was 8½-months pregnant.

The lawyers declined to discuss the allegations against their clients.

Prosecutors alleged Messrs. Zhu and Yang repeatedly corresponded through personal email accounts, as well as Mr. Zhu's own United Imaging email account, with people who had United Imaging email addresses between August 2011 and January 2013, discussing MRI equipment prototypes, experiments and project updates.

After he was confronted by university officials earlier this month, Mr. Zhu said he joined the United Imaging executive's research team in 2011 as co-lead investigator for a grant provided by a Chinese government agency to develop MRI technology innovations and traveled to China at least six times to assist with research, prosecutors alleged. The two research projects were "synergistic" he told university officials, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Feingold alleged that Mr. Zhu told federal agents following his arrest that he had been paid $400,000 by the Chinese company.

The three men face charges of commercial bribery conspiracy, which is punishable by as much as five years in prison. Mr. Zhu also is charged with falsifying records for allegedly not disclosing that he held a related patent when he applied for the NIH grant.

Christopher Rucas, a NYU Langone spokesman, said the university was "cooperating fully" with the investigation.

Write to Chad Bray at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

A version of this article appeared May 21, 2013, on page A6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Scientists Accused of Sharing MRI Research With China.