A former high-profile Harvard professor has been charged with lying to federal authorities about his longstanding links to China, including work at the Wuhan University of Technology.
Charles Lieber, 61, a former chairman of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury.
Lieber faces two counts of making false statements. He was originally arrested on Jan. 28, according to a Justice Department news release.
The release said that since 2008, Lieber was the principal investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard, which received more than $15 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.
The grants stipulated that all sources of funding for research, possible conflicts of interest and foreign collaboration be reported.
The Justice Department alleges that beginning in 2011, Lieber became a “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology and participated in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from 2012 through 2015.
The Thousand Talents Plan is aimed at recruiting scientific talent for China to promote is growth.
“[T]hese talent recruitment plans seek to lure Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts to bring their knowledge and experience to China, and they often reward individuals for stealing proprietary information,” the release said.
According to the Justice Department, Lieber was paid up to $50,000 a month with living expenses of about $158,000 in a $1.5 million contract over three years to develop a research lab at Wuhan.
Under the deal, Lieber worked for the Chinese college “not less than nine months a year” by “declaring international cooperation projects, cultivating young teachers and Ph.D. students, organizing international conference[s], applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of [WUT],” the release said.
But in 2018, the wheels fell off.
“On or about April 24, 2018, during an interview with federal investigators, it is alleged that Lieber falsely stated that he was never asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Program, but that he ‘wasn’t sure’ how China categorized him,” the Justice Department release said.
When NIH asked Harvard about any Chinese connection, it was initially rebuffed, according to the release.
“Lieber allegedly caused Harvard to falsely tell NIH that Lieber ‘had no formal association with WUT’ after 2012, that ‘WUT continued to falsely exaggerate’ his involvement with WUT in subsequent years, and that Lieber ‘is not and has never been a participant in’ China’s Thousand Talents Plan,’” the release said.
If he is found guilty, each charge of making false statements carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
“The government has this wrong,” Lieber’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, said, according to Politico.
“Professor Lieber has dedicated his life to science and to his students,” Mukasey said. “Not money, not fame, just his science and his students. He is the victim in this case, not the perpetrator.
“But he’s also a fighter — he always has been — so we’re not taking this lying down. We’re fighting back. And when justice is done, Charlie’s good name will be restored and the scientific community again will be able to benefit from his intellect and passion.”
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