On Tuesday, a Harvard University professor was found guilty by a jury of a series of criminal charges related to his involvement with a recruiting program operated by the Chinese Communist Party government.
On all counts, Charles Lieber has been convicted after pleading not guilty to multiple charges of filing false tax returns, failing to file reports of foreign bank accounts, and making false statements to government officials.
Lieber defended the charges by claiming that the government did not have adequate evidence to prove he acted with intent or made the statements he was accused of. His attorney, Marc Mukasey, said that if the government arrests someone in their office and sends 25 agents to their house to “bring the full force” of the federal government against them because of an accusation of false statements, “you better damned well have those statements.”
Lieber operated the Lieber Research Group out of Harvard, and the organization obtained over $15 million in grants from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. As conditions for the grants, the recipient must disclose any conflicts of interest. According to the Justice Department, that includes financial disputes resulting from relationships with foreign organizations and governments.
Federal prosecutors argued at trial that Lieber actively concealed from the NIH and Harvard his participation in the Thousand Talents Plan operated by the Chinese government. They alleged that the professor hid $158,000 in living expenses and payments of $50,000 per month he received from the Wuhan University of Technology. Lieber was accused of making the payments for publishing articles, organizing conferences, and applying for federal patents for the Chinese university.
China’s government started the Thousand Talents Plan to recruit international researchers to assist communist technology and intellectual property development.
Prosecutors argued that Lieber lied to save his career at Harvard in the leading case in the Justice Department’s “China Initiative” started during the Trump administration in 2018 to fight Chinese economic espionage.
Academic leaders from several U.S. universities have asked Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland to end the China Initiative. They argue that it hurts America’s ability to compete in the sciences internationally and the ability to recruit foreign academics and researchers.