BOSTON — A Harvard University professor on Tuesday was convicted of U.S. charges that he lied about his ties to a China-run recruitment program, in a closely watched case stemming from a crackdown on Chinese influence within U.S. research.
A federal jury in Boston found Charles Lieber, a renowned nanoscientist and the former chairman of Harvard's chemistry department, guilty of making false statements to authorities, filing false tax returns and failing to report a Chinese bank account.
Prosecutors had said that in 2011, Lieber, in his quest for a Nobel Prize, 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 program to recruit foreign researchers to share their knowledge with the country. Participation is not a crime, but prosecutors contend Lieber, 62, illegally lied to authorities about his involvement.
Defense 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" FBI interview with the scientist after his arrest.
Lieber, who is battling cancer, sat emotionless as the court announced the verdict, which followed nearly three hours of jury deliberations and six days of trial. Mukasey declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Lieber was charged in January 2020 as part of the U.S. Department of Justice's "China Initiative," launched during former President Donald Trump's administration to counter suspected Chinese economic espionage and research theft.
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 has terrorized 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 program in response to inquiries from the U.S. Defense Department and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which had awarded him $15 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 had believed his collaboration would boost his recognition.
Through that school, he was paid up to $50,000 per month plus $158,000 in 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.
Source: Voice of America