U.S. officials in Milwaukee have arrested a cancer researcher from China, Huajun Zhao, 42, on charges of "economic espionage" after a colleague at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCOW) reported that vials of a research compound were missing. According to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI, a security video recorded Zhao as the last person to enter an office where vials of a substance called C-25, a potential anticancer agent, were seen. The FBI statement, dated 29 March, reports that Zhao "may have used his employment and position at MCOW to illegally acquire patented research material and taken steps to provide that material to Zhejiang University, a university in China." MCOW officials, according to the FBI, accuse Zhao of copying research results without permission from files belonging to cancer researcher Marshall Anderson and another MCOW scientist and deleting shared data from a MCOW computer.
The FBI's criminal complaint reports that Zhao failed to respond to many questions, saying that he did not understand English well, but "denied any involvement in the theft of the C-25 and denied" deleting material from the MCOW computer. Under a recently revised federal law, a person convicted of economic espionage can be fined up to $5 million and sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison.
Zhao was in a court hearing today to determine whether he should be held for trial and could not be reached for comment. His attorney, public defender Juval Scott, was also unavailable. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported Zhao's arrest yesterday, quoted Scott as saying this is "a complex case involving a talented professional accused of a serious crime, we look forward to rolling up our sleeves on Dr. Zhao's behalf."
An MCOW spokesperson declined to comment except to say that C-25 is "an organic compound" being studied to see if it can assist other drugs in killing cancer cells without damaging "normal" cells; the intellectual property rights are held jointly by MCOW and the University of Cincinnati.