A Harvard University professor has been indicted and charged with making false statements to federal authorities about his participation in a Chinese-run program that seeks to lure scientists to China to advance the communist nation’s “scientific development, economic prosperity, and national security,” the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
Dr. Charles Lieber, 61, was arrested on January 28 and indicted this week, the DOJ statement said.
“According to charging documents, since 2008, Dr. Lieber has served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, specializing in the area of nanoscience. Lieber’s research at the Lieber Research Group has been funded by more than $15 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DOD). Among other things, these grants required the disclosure of all sources of research support, potential financial conflicts of interest and all foreign collaboration,” the DOJ stated.
Lieber’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, told The Associated Press that Lieber didn’t do anything wrong.
“He is the victim in this case, not the perpetrator,” Mukasey said. “But he’s also a fighter — he always has been — so we’re not taking this lying down,” Mukasey said. “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.”
The DOJ, meanwhile, alleges that starting in 2011 – and without Harvard’s knowledge – Lieber joined Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) as a “Strategic Scientist.” Between 2012 and 2015, the DOJ alleges, Lieber was paid up to $50,000 a month, living expenses of up to $158,000, and was given $1.5 million to “establish a research lab at WUT.” In exchange for all this, the DOJ alleges, Lieber was a “contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan,” which Bloomberg reported last year worried U.S. officials because the program “economic espionage and theft of intellectual property.” The DOJ added that China often rewards “individuals for stealing proprietary information.”
“It is alleged that in 2018 and 2019, Lieber lied to federal authorities about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan and his affiliation with WUT. 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. In November 2018, NIH inquired of Harvard about whether Lieber had failed to disclose his then-suspected relationship with WUT and China’s Thousand Talents Plan. 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 DOJ stated.
Lieber faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.
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