August 20, 2002

Calif. Biotech Spy Case Fizzles


Filed at 9:39 a.m. ET

WOODLAND, Calif. (AP) -- A former University of California, Davis, scientist was acquitted of theft, completing the spectacular collapse of a case that originally charged the eye researcher with economic espionage.

Bin Han, 40, was accused of stealing 20 vials of a protein gel researchers were using in attempts to grow replacement corneas for the blind. Police found vials of the gel in his freezer and a plane ticket to his native China.

He was originally charged with three felonies, including the theft of trade secrets and embezzlement.

Han, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was held without bail in solitary confinement for 18 days because authorities feared he was a flight risk. Prosecutors later threw out all but one charge, which a judge last month reduced to a misdemeanor.

A jury acquitted Han of the remaining count Monday after a five-day trial.

Han maintained he stored the vials in his freezer as a convenience and was fired before he could return them to the school.

Some critics called the case ethnically motivated and compared it to the saga of former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Lee, who was prosecuted for making copies of sensitive nuclear weapons data, pleaded guilty to a single count of downloading data to computer tape at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has said he made backup copies to protect data from being erased.

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Copyright 2002 The Associated Press