Harvard professor convicted by US jury of lying about China ties

Harvard professor convicted by US jury of lying about China ties
A federal jury in Boston found Charles Lieber guilty on all six counts he faced.
PHOTO: Reuters

BOSTON - A Harvard University professor was convicted on Tuesday (Dec 21) of United States charges that he lied about his ties to a China-run recruitment programme in a closely-watched case stemming from a crackdown on Chinese influence within US research.

A federal jury in Boston found Charles Lieber, a renowned nanoscientist and the former chairman of Harvard's chemistry department, guilty on all six counts he faced including that he made false statements to the authorities and filed false tax returns.

Prosecutors had said that Lieber, in his quest for a Nobel Prize, in 2011 agreed to become a "strategic scientist" at Wuhan University of Technology in China and through it participated in a Chinese recruitment drive called the Thousand Talents Program.

Prosecutors say China uses that programme to recruit foreign researchers to share their knowledge with the country.

Participation is not a crime, but prosecutors contend Lieber, 62, illegally lied to the authorities about his involvement.

Defence lawyer Marc Mukasey had countered that prosecutors had mangled evidence to prove Lieber's guilt, lacked key documents to support their claims and relied too heavily on a confused Federal Bureau of Investigation interview with the scientist after his arrest.

He was charged in January last year as part of the US Department of Justice's China Initiative, launched during former president Donald Trump's administration to counter Chinese economic espionage and research theft.


US President Joe Biden's administration has continued the initiative, though the Justice Department has said it is reviewing its approach.

Critics contend the initiative harms academic research, racially profiles Chinese researchers and terrorised some scientists.

A Tennessee professor was acquitted by a judge this year following a mistrial, and prosecutors dropped charges against six other researchers.

Prosecutors said Lieber lied about his role in the recruitment programme in response to inquiries from the US Defence Department and the US National Institutes of Health, which had awarded him US$15 million (S$20.5 million) in research grants.

During an interview with FBI agents following his arrest, Lieber said he was "younger and stupid" when he linked up with the Wuhan university and believed his collaboration would boost his recognition.

Through that school, he was paid up to US$50,000 per month plus US$158,000 in annual living expenses, and received his salary half in cash and half in deposits to a Chinese bank account, prosecutors said.

But they said Lieber failed to report his salary on his 2013 and 2014 income tax returns and for two years failed to report the bank account.

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