China jails scientist for 12 years over misuse of research cash

Researcher said he had transferred the sums to help cash flow at his lab

January 6, 2020
China currency
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Li Ning, a professor at China Agricultural University in Beijing, has been sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for embezzling more than Rmb 34 million (£3.7 million). His assistant, Zhang Lei, was also sentenced to a prison term, and both were fined.

Dr Li was found guilty of transferring funds as “investments” to companies he controlled, although there was no evidence that he spent the money on himself, The South China Morning Post reported, citing a court verdict from northeastern Jilin province. He said that he made the transfers to prevent a funding gap at his lab, at a time when the government required unused funding to be returned at the end of each year and re-applied for each January.

That rule changed in 2014, the same year that Dr Li was first arrested. The case made him the first academic investigated in a nationwide anti-corruption campaign, Science reported. Last year, some members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering petitioned the courts to ask for leniency for Dr Li.

He is considered a star academic, who was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering at the age of 45 and was the former director of an agrobiotechnology State Key Laboratory, one of the county’s prestigious government-funded research centres.

His sentencing comes only a few days after that of another cloning expert in China. On 30 December, He Jiankui, previously an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), was sentenced to three years in prison and fined for illegal human embryo gene-editing. 

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