Harvard professor found guilty of lying about ties to China

It was nearly two years ago that Dr. Charles Lieber was arrested and accused of lying about his ties to China. According to a criminal complaint, Dr. Lieber was being paid as much as $50,000 per month as part of China’s Thousand Talents Plan. Dr. Lieber was indicted by a grand jury last June. A DOJ press release at the time stated:

It is alleged that, unbeknownst to Harvard University, beginning in 2011, Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China. He later became contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015…Under the terms of Lieber’s three-year Thousand Talents contract, WUT allegedly paid Lieber a salary of up to $50,000 USD per month, living expenses of up to 1 million Chinese Yuan (approximately $158,000 USD at the time) and awarded him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT. In return, Lieber was obligated to work for WUT “not less than nine months a year” by “declaring international cooperation projects, cultivating young teachers and Ph.D. students, organizing international conference[s], applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of [WUT].”

Today, a jury found Dr. Lieber guilty on six counts.

The verdict, returned after less than three hours of deliberations, marks a stunning fall for Mr. Lieber, who came under scrutiny by federal investigators over an academic partnership with the Wuhan University of Technology that dates back a decade. Prosecutors showed documentary evidence that Mr. Lieber had signed a Thousand Talents agreement with Wuhan that paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars—some in cash and some deposited into a Chinese bank account…

The most direct evidence against Mr. Lieber were tapes of an hourslong interview with FBI agents immediately after his arrest in early 2020. The tapes offered a window into the world of high-stakes academic research as well as efforts by foreign universities and governments to recruit and reward top scientists…

“Money is a big temptation,” he said. “That’s one of the things that China uses to seduce people.”

In the video recordings, Mr. Lieber acknowledged that he was paid in cash during his visits to China and gave the money to his wife for their living expenses such as groceries and other bills without ever reporting it on their tax returns. He told agents that his Chinese bank account had about $200,000 in it but that he never used the money for anything—eventually concluding that he “didn’t need it and [he] didn’t believe it was the right thing” to use the cash.

So it sounds like he admitted getting the cash but denied being part of the Thousand Talents program even though he’d signed a document joining it. That seems pretty open and shut to me. I’m not surprised the jury only took three hours to render a verdict.

Dr. Lieber is the most prominent academic charged for hiding connections to China but the WSJ notes that of the 24 similar cases brought so far, nine resulted in guilty pleas and six were dismissed. The rest are still pending.

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