WESTWOOD – A visiting Chinese researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles was charged with destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Friday, August 28.
Guan Lei, 29, came to the United States on a J-1 nonimmigrant visa in 2018 and studied machine-learning algorithms in the mathematics department at UCLA. The FBI began to investigate him in July due to the suspicion of “visa fraud and the possible transfer of sensitive software or technical data.”
Lei was accused of discarding a damaged hard drive near his apartment in Irvine after he refused the FBI’s request to conduct an offsite search of his laptop and attempted to board a flight to go back to China.
According to the affidavit of the criminal complaint, the internal hard drive “was irreparably damaged and that all previous data associated with the hard drive appears to have been removed deliberately and by force.”
“Guan is being investigated for possibly transferring sensitive U.S. software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) and falsely denying his association with the Chinese military – the People’s Liberation Army – in connection with his 2018 visa application and in interviews with federal law enforcement,” the complaint states.
During the FBI investigation, Lei acknowledged that he did dress in Chinese military uniform and participated in the military training during the time he was at NUDT, but insisted that he did not serve in the military.
Google records show that Lei emailed the Chinese consulate throughout June and July, according to the affidavit.
The FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are still investigating the case and the Assistant U.S. Attorneys Will Rollins and George Pence of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.
Lei’s arrangement was scheduled for September 17. He could face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison if the felony offense of destruction of evidence is convicted.