(Reuters) – A Chinese professor accused by US prosecutors of helping to steal US technology for the benefit of Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI, but should be allowed to return home after prosecutors decided not to prosecute serious charges.
The professor, Bo Mao, had been charged with conspiring to defraud the CNEX labs in Silicon Valley and faced up to 20 years in prison. He was a visiting professor at the University of Texas when he was arrested in August 2019.
Mao, 37, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of making a false statement during a video appearance before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn. He is expected to be sentenced to time served and to leave the United States on December 16. He was detained for six days after his arrest.
Mao was initially accused of making a deal with an unidentified company to use its circuit board for research and sharing proprietary information with a Chinese company. Descriptions suggest that the first company referred to CNEX Labs and the second to Huawei.
During the plea hearing, Mao admitted through a Mandarin interpreter that he told FBI agents who didn’t know anyone at a Texas university owned the board. But he had sought access to it when he made the false statement.
Prosecutor Sarah Evans said Judge Mao’s lies “hid the lengths” he went to access the technology on behalf of a company she did not name, but it is Huawei.
Mao’s arrest came amid a US Justice Department crackdown on Chinese influence in universities over allegations of Chinese government espionage and theft of intellectual property.
The arrest also came before federal prosecutors in Brooklyn added charges of theft of trade secrets to their 2018 indictment against Huawei, a telecommunications equipment maker.
Reporting by Karen Freifeld; edited by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang