Guan Lei, a 29-year-old Chinese national and researcher at the University of California-Los Angeles, was arrested on federal charges of destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation.
According to the Department of Justice, Lei threw a damaged hard drive into a dumpster outside his apartment on July 25.
The FBI recovered the 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. The internal hard drive "was irreparably damaged" and all data appears to have been removed deliberately and by force.
He was arrested on a one-count criminal complaint unsealed on Friday during his initial appearance in court.
Prosecutors said Guan is being investigated for possibly transferring sensitive software or technical data to China’s National University of Defense Technology and falsely denying his association with the Chinese military in connection with his 2018 visa application and in interviews with federal law enforcement.
According to the Daily Bruin, Lei is a visiting researcher who studied mathematics. He is in the U.S. on a J-1 non-immigrant (student) visa.
Guan admitted that he had participated in military training while at NUDT. One of his faculty advisors in China was also a lieutenant general who developed computers for the military.
NUDT is “suspected of procuring U.S.-origin items to develop supercomputers with nuclear explosive applications” and has been placed on the 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.
If convicted, Guan faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning researchers with ties to China's "military-civil fusion strategy" from entering the U.S.