A federal jury found Harvard University Professor Charles M. Lieber, 62, guilty on all felony counts of lying about his history working for programs operated by the Chinese communist government.
Lieber was first charged by federal officials last summer with two counts of “making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” about his ties to communist China’s Thousand Talents program to the U.S. Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health, two counts of tax offenses including refusing to report income he received from the Wuhan University of Technology, and two counts of failing to report foreign bank accounts. Following his arrest in January 2020 and the subsequent revocation of his passport, Harvard placed Lieber, the chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, on indefinite paid leave.
“This is embarrassing,” Lieber said. “Every scientist wants to win a Nobel Prize.”
Lieber first became involved in the China-first communist-run program in 2012 as a “high level foreign expert” and “strategic scientist” per the request of representatives for the Wuhan University of Technology. Lieber denied any contract with the Chinese operation, which is “designed to attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity, and national security,” when questioned by DOD officials in 2018.
Lieber tried to maintain his innocence during the trial but admitted that he “wasn’t completely transparent by any stretch of the imagination.”
Just one year after he signed a three-year contract with the talents program, Lieber began collecting money from the Wuhan University of Technology, up to $50,000 per month and $150,000 for living expenses, which he later failed to report on his 2013 and 2014 tax returns. He was also granted $1.5 million “to establish a research lab at the Chinese school” and was given assistance from the Wuhan University of Technology in creating a Chinese bank account, which he did not report in 2014 and 2015 despite the fact that it contained more than $10,000.
Lieber’s conviction is a victory for the U.S. Department of Justice’s China Initiative, created under the Trump administration, which seeks to find and charge scientists who try to conceal their shady dealings with communist China. As universities such as Princeton continue to take millions of dollars from communist China’s government-run universities and educational institutions, U.S. federal officials are on the lookout for what FBI director Christopher Wray said is China’s strategic use of “non-traditional collectors (of intelligence), especially in the academic setting” to forward its own national goals.