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Probation for former LANL scientist in lying investigation

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A former computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory was sentenced Friday to five years of probation and fined $75,000 for lying to federal investigators about his involvement in a Chinese government recruitment program, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Former LANL scientist Turab Lookman

Turab Lookman, 69, of Santa Fe, who had worked at LANL since 1999, was arrested by the FBI in May 2019 after lying to a LANL counterintelligence officer about being recruited by Thousand Talents, a program established by the Chinese government in 2008.

Thousand Talents was set up to encourage successful Chinese nationals abroad to return home and recruit others with access or knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property, according to prosecutors. Federal authorities feared that Thousand Talents could be a conduit for transferring American technology, know-how, or trade secrets to China.

Authorities said Lookman first came under scrutiny after he told a co-worker he had citizenship in four different countries: India, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 2008.

Lookman initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but changed his plea in January. He was facing up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on a charge of making a false statement to a federal investigator.

Federal prosecutors said that on three different occasions Lookman falsely denied that foreign nationals had offered him a job or that he had applied for one. Yet investigators determined that Lookman did, in fact, apply and was accepted into the Thousand Talents program to receive monetary compensation.

He also did not disclose his association with Thousand Talents on a security clearance questionnaire, prosecutors said.

“I think that probation, all things considered, is an appropriate resolution,” Lookman’s attorney, Paul Linnenburger said in a phone interview.

He added that Lookman understood the gravity of the charges and was grateful for the opportunity to “put his life back together” and maintain his time with his family.

Linnenburger said it was also important to note that Lookman’s association with Thousand Talents wasn’t illegal. “The only issue, and this he pled guilty to, was failing to disclose,” he said.

LANL terminated Lookman after his arrest, two years after it had named him a Laboratory Fellow, one of LANL’s highest awards for its scientific staff. The co-author of two books and more than 250 scientific papers, Lookman was also honored with the lab’s Fellows prize for outstanding research in 2009 and the Distinguished Postdoctoral Mentor Award in 2016.

Lookman is expected to serve the entirety of his five-year probation in New Mexico, according to a Department of Justice news release.

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