Detention of top Chinese scientist a blow for national security, says lawyer
Former Zhejiang University vice-president Chu Jian was detained three years ago on graft charges but has yet to face trial
The detention of a top Chinese scientist for more than three years without trial is hurting the country’s national security, his lawyer said last week when filing a bail petition with prosecutors in Huzhou, Zhejiang province.
Dr Chu Jian, an industrial automation expert, was vice-president of Zhejiang University before he was held for investigation and later charged with corruption in 2013.
He also founded Supcon, one of the largest automation and information technology suppliers in China. With customers in state-owned industry, government and the military, its smart city network played a key role in setting up security for the G20 summit in Hangzhou next month, according to state media reports.
“Dr Chu is one of the best scientists in the field, winning many top science awards with a significant contribution to China’s national interest,” lawyer Zhou Ze said. “His unreasonably long detention based on unfounded charges has severely affected the pace of numerous research projects critical to China’s national security.”
Chu’s research had significantly reduced and in some cases even eliminated the use of foreign-made components in large industries and the information technology sector, reducing the risk of infiltration and sabotage of China’s backbone infrastructure by foreign individuals or organisations, Zhou said.
The charges against Chu include corruption, embezzlement, bribery, misappropriation of public funds and intentionally destroying accounting records.
The prosecutors alleged Chu acquired a significant stake in Supcon at an “unreasonably low” price as the company transformed from a university-owned enterprise to a private one in 2003. They also charged him with attempting to bribe government employees in the early stages of the investigation.
A People’s Procuratorate official in Huzhou said they had received the bail petition but declined to comment on the case.
In a statement on its WeChat account last week, Supcon supported Chu’s bid for bail, saying it would allow him to return to his post and continue the development of “core technology” for China’s national security.
Zhou said many Chinese hi-tech companies, including Lenovo, had allowed key scientists to acquire large shareholdings when they had gone through similar stages of reform.
“He was just doing what everyone else was doing, and it was perfectly legal because the government had issued numerous official regulations and guidelines permitting such transactions in an effort to stimulate innovation among scientists,” Zhou said.
Chu is not the only senior scientist to have been kept behind bars without trial in recent years. Dr Li Ning, lead scientist of the national genetic engineering project at China Agricultural University, was detained in 2014 for corruption after allegedly transferring more than 20 million yuan (HK$23.4 million) in research funds to unauthorised bank accounts.
Their arrests have sparked some concerns among China’s research community, according to a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The researcher said China used to have a very rigid fund management policy, with some old provisions “utterly incompatible” with the present research environment, which was driven by the market economy and global competition. Some scientists had found ways to bypass the rules, such as using funds designated for the purchase of hardware to subsidise laboratory technicians on low salaries.
“The line between legal and illegal is often blurred,” the researcher said.
The central government has made scientific innovation a top national priority, with state leaders reiterating promises to increase scientists’ incomes and protect their interests on many occasions this year.
On July 17, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued a guideline to its subordinate branches, urging prosecutors to consider protecting scientists and innovation when handling cases.
“For researchers in key positions, try not to use detention, arrest and other coercive measures,” the guideline said.