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Harvard’s Chemistry Chair Arrested, Charged with Lying About China Contract


- January 29th, 2020
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A top Harvard University scientist is accused of making “making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the Department of Defense about his work for a Chinese-run talent recruitment program, according to an affidavit filed Monday.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged 60-year-old Charles Lieber with lying to the Department of Defense about his role in China’s Thousand Talents program (TTP)

The Chinese government established the program in 2008 to attract scientists from across the world. The federal government has since designated the TTP as a danger to national security.

Lieber, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work as a “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology, according to the complaint. The scientist studies nanotechnology and has reportedly had “an illustrious academic career at Harvard.”

He allegedly violated federal law by not disclosing his involvement with TTP to the Defense Department, including money he received.

Lieber reportedly appeared at his hearing in a Boston courtroom in shackles Tuesday, and will be in federal custody until a second hearing on Thursday.

“The charges brought by the U.S. government against Professor Lieber are extremely serious,” Harvard said in a statement. “Harvard is cooperating with federal authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, and is initiating its own review of the alleged misconduct.”
The university added that Lieber has been put on “indefinite administrative leave.”

The Thousand Talents program tries to recruit experts from Western universities to work in China and ramp up its progress in science and technology. In a complaint, the FBI said the program has “rewarded individuals for stealing proprietary information and violating export controls.”

The charging documents, unsealed Tuesday, allege that under the Thousand Talents contract Lieber was paid $50,000 in monthly salary by China’s Wuhan University of Technology and another $158,000 in living expenses. He was also awarded some $1.74 million to set up a research lab there.

Lieber additionally made false statements to the National Institutes of Health about his involvement in the recruitment plan and his affiliation with the Chinese university. He was in federal custody as of Tuesday afternoon, a senior federal law enforcement official told NBC News.

Lieber is also accused of leading Harvard to inaccurately tell the NIH that he had no affiliation with the TTP.

He has been placed on an “indefinite” paid administrative, according to the Harvard Crimson.

 The charges come as both the United States government and Harvard embark upon a campaign to curb “academic espionage,” a process by which researchers funnel academic information to foreign governments.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain told the Crimson that the university is conducting its own review of the allegations against Lieber, and that the accused is no longer allowed on Harvard’s campus.

Two Chinese nationals were also charged Tuesday with allegedly aiding the Chinese government in separate cases, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.  One of the two is a researcher who is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

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