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Expert Calls for Tighter Control of Funds

China Daily, January 5, 2013 Adjust font size:

A researcher who is behind bars for corruption and misuse of research funds is proof that a new system is urgently needed to distribute such funds, an expert warned.

Duan Zhenhao, 53, from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, was nominated as a candidate academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of China's leading scientific research institutes, in May 2011.

But his wife posted several reports online that said Duan had used government research funds to pay for his travel and other expenses and had had extramarital affairs since June 29, 2011. The supervision and auditing department of the institution he worked at subsequently investigated his projects.

It later claimed that Duan and his secretary had used false invoices to apply for more funds, the amount reaching 1.24 million yuan (US$199,000). Duan received 58,500 yuan illegally from his projects, a report in the Beijing News said on Friday.

On Dec 18, Duan was sentenced to 13 years in prison, and his secretary got 10 years.

Duan's alleged extramarital affairs were not investigated. His wife could not be reached for comment.

Duan appealed to a higher court because he thought the sentence was too harsh, but no details about the appeal have been released, his lawyer said.

"He knew little about the reimbursement but focused on his research," said Zhao Fuwei, his lawyer from the Beijing Dongyuan Law Firm.

Zhao said Duan had worked in the United States for years, making him unfamiliar with the reimbursement system in China.

"Besides, Duan thought part of the funds for his projects could be his payment," Zhao said. "He didn't deliberately misuse that large amount of money, so he deserves a shorter sentence."

Many people have questioned Duan's morality. He claimed that he donated his sperm to a woman who his wife said is one of his mistresses.

"The academic capabilities and their moral integrity have equal importance to a researcher," said Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences.

"But his is not the only case of a researcher accused of corruption," Chu said. "It's kind of a common practice among researchers."

Only about 40 percent of government research funds have been used for the projects, according to a survey conducted by the China Association for Science and Technology, Guangming Daily said.

From 2003 to 2011, 17 corruption cases involving of researchers were discovered in Beijing's Haidian district, where many universities and institutes are located.

In December, the Ministry of Education released statements calling for better use of funds. Together with Duan's case, this can serve as a warning to researchers that good behavior is important.

But it cannot solve the problem. "The government needs to further reform the system to distribute funds and supervise research projects," Chu said, suggesting that professionals instead of government officials or administrative personnel from institutions should manage academic projects.

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