Dr. Yudong Zhu
Zhu, leaving court on May 20, 2013 has been accused of giving nonpublic information to a Chinese MRI technology company. Steven Hirsch/ NYPost.com

Three Chinese citizens have been accused of industrial espionage, giving non-public information to a Chinese company while working at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. The three men had their research sponsored by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

According to a report by the New York Post, the three men have been identified as associate professor of radiology Zhu Yudong, research engineer Yang Xing, and postdoctoral fellow Li Ye.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara described the espionage efforts to be comparable to “inviting foxes in the henhouse,” adding that the group “colluded with representatives from a Chinese government entity and a direct competitor of the university for which they worked to illegally acquire NIH-funded research for the benefit of those entities.”

The 44-year-old Zhu, who was hired by NYU back in 2008 to teach while also researching MRI technology, helped the university obtain a $4 million dollar government research grant with the help of Yang, 31, and Li, 31.

As it turns out, Zhu had also been leading a similar research project in China, at the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology. An investigation into the three men’s email history revealed discussions of creating MRI prototypes and other relevant experiments for their Chinese counterpart project, the government charges. Security cameras also caught Yang taking photos of the NYU-owned equipment. Zhu has reportedly admitted to working as a “co-lead investigator” for United Imaging since 2011. The company, which paid him $400,000 in cash, has also been fingered as a co-conspirator. While their research was funded by the U.S., United Imaging supported graduate school tuition for Yang at NYU, as well as apartments for Li and travel expenses between the U.S. and China for both.

Zhu and Yang were both arrested on Sunday but then released on bond by Monday. All three are being charged with commercial bribery conspiracy, while Zhu is being charged with an additional count of falsification of records.

Li is suspected to have fled the country before charges were brought against the group, and is considered to be at large after flying to Hong Kong on May 10. The charges on the two who remain in the U.S. could have them facing up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Now the New York Times has revealed that the three had also taken money from a Chinese medical imaging company to share the non-public information and detail their research at NYU.

NYU has responded to the allegations against the three researchers by saying it was “deeply disappointed in the news of the alleged conduct by its employees.”

“Through our internal review process we became aware of possible irregularities pursuant to research being conducted through a grant from the NIH to develop new MRI technologies,” the statement said.