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Top Harvard scientist is found guilty of hiding ties to China

Harvard scientist Charles Lieber
Charles Lieber, a professor at Harvard, leaves federal court in Boston in January 2020.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

A Harvard University professor charged with hiding his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program was found guilty on all counts Tuesday.

Charles Lieber, 62, the former chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, had 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.

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

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Lieber’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, had argued that prosecutors lacked proof. He maintained that investigators didn’t keep any record of their interviews with Lieber prior to his arrest.

Mukasey had contended that prosecutors would be unable to prove Lieber acted “knowingly, intentionally or willfully, or that he made any material false statement.” Mukasey also stressed that Lieber wasn’t charged with illegally transferring any technology or proprietary information to China.

But prosecutors said Lieber, who was arrested in January 2020, knowingly hid his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan — a program designed to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China — to protect his career and reputation.

Feds dropping charges against Chinese academics heightens worries about bias.

Lieber denied his involvement during inquiries from U.S. authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, which had provided him with millions of dollars in research funding, prosecutors said.

Lieber also concealed his income from the Chinese program, including $50,000 a month from the Wuhan University of Technology, up to $158,000 in living expenses and more than $1.5 million in grants, according to prosecutors.

In exchange, they say, Lieber agreed to publish articles, organize international conferences and apply for patents on behalf of the Chinese university.

Lieber’s is among the highest-profile cases to emerge from the Department of Justice’s so-called China Initiative.

A growing number of professors in China have been punished for ‘improper speech.’ Some are reported by students, harking back to the Cultural Revolution.

Launched in 2018, the effort to curb economic espionage from China has faced criticism that it harms academic research and amounts to racial profiling of Chinese researchers.

Hundreds of faculty members at Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple and other prominent colleges have signed letters to U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland calling on him to end the initiative.

The academics say the effort compromises the nation’s competitiveness in research and technology and has had a chilling effect on recruiting foreign scholars. The letters also complain that the investigations have disproportionally targeted researchers of Chinese origin.

Lieber has been on paid administrative leave from Harvard since his arrest.


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