AKRON, Ohio – Molecular biologist Hiroaki Serizawa pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he engaged in economic espionage involving genetic research material on Alzheimer’s disease.
The federal district court here set the first hearing of his trial for July 23.
Last week, federal prosecutors indicted Serizawa, 39, assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of Kansas, and Takashi Okamoto, 40, a former Cleveland Clinic Foundation researcher, on charges of stealing genetic materials developed by the federally funded clinic.
Only Serizawa was arraigned Wednesday; Okamoto, now working for a quasigovernmental Japanese laboratory, is in Japan. The two were charged with violating the Economic Espionage Act, transporting stolen property and making false statements to the FBI.
Said Serizawa: “I came to the United States 10 years ago believing in its freedom and democracy. I believe justice — justice not affected by racial or ethnic background — will be done in court.”
Serizawa was arrested May 9 but released on $20,000 bail.
A federal attorney in Cleveland said last week the U.S. will ask Japan to extradite Okamoto, a researcher at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken); Japanese officials in Washington claim they have not heard from the U.S. about an extradition request.
According to the indictment, Okamoto and Serizawa, stole genetic materials on Alzheimer’s disease developed by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s Learner Research Institute and sent them to Riken “with the intent to benefit a foreign government and instrumentality of the foreign government.”
Okamoto has denied any wrongdoing.
Research conducted by Okamoto and his colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic focused on specific genes known to trigger the early onset of Alzheimer’s, the indictment said.
Okamoto, who lives with his parents in Tokyo, is believed to be staying somewhere else, according to neighbors. He has been on leave from Riken since the espionage case emerged.
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