An FBI agent who helped arrest University of Kansas professor Feng “Franklin” Tao will be called as a defense witness next week as Tao’s lawyers seek to discredit the state’s handling of the case. government.

Special Agent Steve Lamp is expected to take the witness stand on Monday as the Tao trial, which has been closely watched by civil rights advocates, enters its final days. Lampe was part of the investigation into the chemistry professor and researcher and sat at the prosecution table during the trial.

Tao was arrested in 2019 after extensive surveillance by law enforcement of his interactions with a Chinese research program and university. At the time, federal agents were operating under a Trump administration program called the “China Initiative” aimed at stopping alleged intellectual property theft.

The Biden administration ended the program, which ended with several abandoned cases. Critics said the China Initiative unfairly targets Asian and Asian American scientists.

Defense attorney Peter Zeidenberg said in his opening statement that the defense team would focus on what they saw as a prosecution rush without examining the evidence further. He mentioned a former Tao graduate student who allegedly retaliated for a perceived offense by submitting a false report under assumed identities claiming Tao was a tech spy.

Since Tao is charged with wire fraud, not espionage, mention of the China Initiative was limited by the judge. Prosecutors focused on allegations that Tao tricked KU into hiding his acceptance of a post at a Chinese university and tried to recruit students to work with him in a lab there.

The government says Tao accepted a full-time position at Fuzhou University and did not disclose it to KU, while receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

The questioning of the last two prosecution witnesses on Friday focused on supporting the accusation that Tao was actively working with the Chinese university. He had been named Changjiang Scholar, a prestigious award given by the Chinese Ministry of Education. A requirement of this talent program was that recipients accept exclusive full-time positions at Chinese universities.

Prosecutors presented batches of emails in which Tao tried to recruit promising students as researchers, as well as contract negotiations with the university for the construction of a laboratory according to its needs. They also submitted unsigned draft contracts. There were no signed contracts, but they called experts on the witness stand who cited other indirect indications from Chinese sources that made the appointment more definitive.

Defense attorneys pushed back against the allegations, arguing that exhibits from a Chinese website could not be verified as true without someone to question in court.

James Churchill, a Chinese language specialist who was brought in to help investigators translate Tao’s documents, testified about a document he translated saying Tao was “certified” for the job.

Defense attorneys disputed this translation, arguing that the Chinese character could also mean he was simply “approved” or “cleared” for hiring. Churchill acknowledged that the other definitions were correct, but said he chose his translation based on the context.

Another witness, Dr. Glenn Tiffert, an expert in Chinese history at the Hoover Institution, a Stanford University-based think tank, testified to the importance of the Chinese government developing talented scientists. China is one of the most active countries offering government grants to support promising students, he said.

He also testified to the publication of a finalized list of Changjiang scholarship recipients which was reportedly made public after the recipients accepted their full-time positions. It can be assumed that the academics on this final list have signed with their respective universities, he said.

However, no such list was found during the year Tao was negotiating with Fuzhou. Tiffert suggested that the lists had once been accessible but had been “cleansed” because the Chinese government was aware of academic scrutiny.

Defense attorney Michael Dearington disputed this, saying, “You can’t be sure that something has been cleaned up that you didn’t know was there in the first place.”

The defense team also sought to refute documents in which Fuzhou University appeared to promote Tao’s addition to its faculty. The university had an incentive to oversell Tao in order to promote itself, they said.

Tao believed Fuzhou was not a top university, and contract negotiations indicated he wanted a greater financial commitment than the university offered, Dearington said. In a communication, Tao complained that it was difficult to recruit students to work there.

The prosecution is expected to rest on Monday, after which defense witnesses will be called. It is unclear if Tao will speak.

The case is expected to go to the jury by the middle of the week.