A Chinese national and researcher at UCLA was arrested on federal charges of destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation after he was allegedly observed throwing a damaged hard drive into a dumpster outside his apartment, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.
Guan Lei, 29, was arrested in connection with a one-count criminal complaint unsealed Friday during his initial appearance in Los Angeles federal court.
Guan was ordered detained by a magistrate judge, who scheduled his arraignment for Sept. 17 on the felony offense of destruction of evidence, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison.
The criminal complaint alleges that Guan, who was in the U.S. on a J-1 non-immigrant visa, threw a damaged hard drive into a trash dumpster near his Alhambra home on July 25. The FBI recovered the damaged hard drive after Guan was not allowed to board a flight to China and after he refused the FBI’s request to examine his computer, according to the DOJ.
The affidavit in support of the complaint notes that 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.”
According to the complaint, Guan is being investigated for possibly transferring sensitive U.S. software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology 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 DOJ contends that Guan later admitted that he had participated in military training and wore military uniforms while at NUDT. One of Guan’s NUDT faculty advisers in China was also a lieutenant general in the PLA who developed computers used by the PLA General Staff Department, the PLA General Armament Department, Air Force, military weather forecasts, and nuclear technology, according to the U.S. government.
NUDT is “suspected of procuring U.S.-origin items to develop supercomputers with nuclear explosive applications” and has been placed on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List for nuclear nonproliferation reasons, according to the affidavit.
In addition to destroying the hard drive, the complaint alleges that Guan concealed digital storage devices from investigators and falsely told federal officials that he had not had any contact with the Chinese consulate during his nearly two-year stay in the U.S.
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