US lab scientist charged with lying about China contact

New Mexico

A scientist for a U.S. laboratory in New Mexico is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday on charges that he lied about contact he had with a state-run program in China that seeks to draw foreign-educated talent.

Turab Lookman, who lives in Santa Fe and until recently worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was asked on an employment questionnaire and by federal officials if he had been recruited by China’s Thousand Talents Program or applied to work there, authorities said. He’s accused in an indictment filed last week of falsely stating three times between November 2017 and September 2018 that he had not.

Prosecutors have described Thousand Talents as a program established by China to recruit people with access to and knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property. For years, it was known as one of many state initiatives aimed at reversing a decades-long brain drain in China.

Earlier this year, a former research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was sentencedto time-served in Florida for working for the U.S. agency and two China programs, one of which was Thousand Talents. Chunzai Wang’s sentence came after he pleaded guilty to a charged of accepting a salary from another source while working for NOAA.

Lookman was arrested Thursday on charges of making false statements, and faces up to five years in prison if convicted, according to the U.S. attorneys’ office. His hearing Tuesday morning in Albuquerque is being held to determine whether he should be detained as he awaits trial.

Court records did not yet list an attorney for Lookman.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Lookman began working in 1999 at the laboratory in Los Alamos. The once-secret city in the mountains of northern New Mexico is where the atomic bomb was developed decades ago as part of the Manhattan Project.

The laboratory is now tasked with ensuring the safety of the nation’s nuclear stockpile, reducing weapons threats, and tackling energy, infrastructure, health and security problems.

Lookman, an expert in the area of computational physics, was the recipient of at least two awards while working at the Los Alamos laboratory and is the co-author of two books, according to the lab’s website.

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