Harvard University professor Charles Lieber has been convicted of several criminal charges associated with hiding his connections to a recruitment program run by the Chinese government.
Lieber pleaded not guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of making false statements, and two counts of failing to file reports for a foreign bank account in China. Lieber was found guilty by a jury on all counts Tuesday, according to Bloomberg.
Lieber’s defense attorney Marc Mukasey argued that the prosecution lacked proof that his client committed the crimes of which he was accused.
“If you’re going to blow into somebody’s office, handcuff them behind the back, then 25 agents go to their house and bring the full force of the US government down on them – because you think they made false statements – you better damned well have those statements,” Mukasey said, according to the South China Post.
Lieber was the principal investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, which received more than $15,000,000 in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. The grants require the full disclosure of any financial conflicts of interest, including foreign governments or foreign entities, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.
The prosecution argued that Lieber hid his involvement in the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Plan from the NIH and his employers at Harvard University. Prosecutors also claim that Lieber kept secret the $50,000 per month and $158,000 in living expenses that he was paid by Wuhan University of Technology in exchange for publishing articles, applying for patents, and organizing international conferences for the University, according to Bloomberg.
The Thousand Talents Plan is a program launched by the Chinese government to recruit researchers with knowledge of technology and intellectual property.
Lieber previously denied the claims, but the prosecution said he was lying to preserve his career.
Lieber’s case is one of the most notable cases regarding the U.S. government’s “China initiative.” The China initiative was launched in 2018 by the U.S. Justice Department to combat espionage that would threaten the U.S. economy.
American academics from top universities around the country have asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to end the China initiative, claiming that it harms U.S. competitiveness in the field of science and discourages the U.S. from recruiting foreign researchers. In addition to these complaints about the China initiative, academics claim people of Chinese origin are disproportionately targeted by economic espionage investigations, according to Bloomberg.