In this March 22, 2019 file photo, an American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington. The Justice Department has accused two Chinese hackers of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of trade secrets from companies across the world and more recently targeting firms developing a vaccine for the coronavirus. Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

NEW YORK — A senior NASA scientist admitted to lying to authorities about his participation in a program the U.S. says is designed to siphon intellectual property to China.

Meyya Meyyappan, of Pacifica, California, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court in New York to one count of making false statements, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan said in a statement. Meyyappan, 66, has worked for NASA since 1996 and has been chief scientist for exploration technology at the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames Research Center in California since 2006, according to the statement.

Prosecutors said Meyyappan participated in China’s Thousand Talents Program, which the U.S. says was established by the Chinese government “to recruit individuals with access to or knowledge of foreign technology or intellectual property,” and served as a professor at universities in China, South Korea and Japan.

But when questioned by FBI agents, NASA’s inspector general and government attorneys in October, he denied that he took part in the program or held professorships at the schools. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 16 and faces as long as five years in prison.

U.S. prosecutors have pursued charges against multiple intellectuals, researchers and scientists they claim have been working with the Chinese to steal trade secrets. At least half a dozen cases have been filed against Chinese researchers affiliated with military universities in their home country, and several others against visiting scholars who have participated in Chinese academic programs that U.S. authorities say are state-backed efforts to gather trade secrets.

Story by Chris Dolmetsch.