Harvard professor found guilty of concealing his ties to China

Harvard

On Tuesday, a Harvard University professor was found guilty on all counts of concealing his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program.

Former Harvard chemistry and chemical biology department chair Charles Lieber, 62, pleaded not guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of making false statements, and two counts of failing to file reports for a foreign bank account in China.

Following five days of testimony in federal court in Boston, the jury deliberated for about two hours and 45 minutes before announcing the verdict.

Marc Mukasey, Lieber’s defence attorney, had argued that the charges were unproven. He claimed that prior to Lieber’s arrest, investigators didn’t keep any records of their interviews with him.

Prosecutors would not be able to prove Lieber acted “knowingly, intentionally, or willfully,” or that he made any material false statement, he claimed. Lieber was not charged with illegally transferring any technology or proprietary information to China, according to Mukasey.

Prosecutors claimed Lieber, who was arrested in January, hid his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, which aims to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China, in order to protect his career and reputation.

During inquiries by US authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, which had provided him with millions of dollars in research funding, Lieber denied his involvement, according to prosecutors.

According to prosecutors, Lieber also concealed his income from the Chinese program, which included USD 50,000 per month from the Wuhan University of Technology, up to USD 158,000 in living expenses, and over USD 1.5 million in grants.

They claim Lieber agreed to publish articles, organise international conferences, and file patent applications on behalf of the Chinese university in exchange.

The case is one of the most high-profile to emerge from the US Justice Department’s so-called “China Initiative.”

The effort to combat Chinese economic espionage, which began in 2018, has been criticised as harming academic research and amounting to racial profiling of Chinese researchers.

Hundreds of professors from Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple, and other prestigious universities have signed letters to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging him to stop the initiative.

Academics argue that the effort jeopardises the country’s competitiveness in research and technology and has stifled the recruitment of foreign scholars. The letters also claim that the investigations have unfairly targeted Chinese-origin researchers.

Since his arrest in January 2020, Lieber has been on paid administrative leave at Harvard.

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