A Harvard professor was indicted Tuesday for lying about his ties to communist China.
According to Fox News, Dr. Charles Lieber has been charged with making false statements about his involvement in research programs designed to further China’s priorities.
Professor indicted for helping China
Lieber, who has served as the chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, allegedly helped advance China’s research interests by contracting business with the Wuhan University of Technology and participating in something called the Thousand Talents program, Fox reported.
In a statement, the Department of Justice (DOJ) called the program “one of the most prominent Chinese talent recruitment plans designed to attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity, and national security.”
“According to court documents, these talent recruitment plans seek to lure Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts to bring their knowledge and experience to China, and they often reward individuals for stealing proprietary information,” the DOJ said.
Lieber had a three-year contract with Thousand Talents, in which he was paid up to $50,000 per month, and he was granted over $1.5 million to establish a research lab at the Wuhan school, Fox reported. According to the New York Post, the professor has received at least $15 million in federal grants for his research at Harvard, which requires him to disclose “all sources of research support, potential financial conflicts of interest, and all foreign collaboration,” the Post reported.
According to the DOJ, Lieber was arrested in January after he lied in 2018 and 2019 about his involvement. The 61-year-old faces up to five years in prison, the Post reported, though his attorney has maintained his innocence.
“He is the victim in this case, not the perpetrator,” Lieber’s lawyer said, according to Fox. “When justice is done, Charlie’s good name will be restored and the scientific community again will be able to benefit from his intellect and passion.”
IP theft under a microscope
The professor’s indictment comes as the coronavirus pandemic has drawn closer attention to the threat China poses to America’s power and national security. A major area of concern has been China’s theft of intellectual property from America’s research institutions and universities, which have been said to be magnets for Chinese spies.
Sources told Newsweek in February that Lieber’s arrest would be the “first domino to fall” in a wider scandal throughout academia. Two Chinese nationals, including a person connected with China’s military, have been arrested in separate cases, the DOJ notes.
President Donald Trump, for his part, has moved to block Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to the country’s military from coming to America.
“For years, the government of China has conducted illicit espionage to steal our industrial secrets, of which there are many,” the president said last month, according to the New York Post. He went on to issue a proclamation to, in Trump’s words, “better secure our nation’s vital university research, and to suspend the entry of certain foreign nationals from China, who we have identified as potential security risks.”