A Harvard University professor accused of lying about his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program has been indicted by a US federal court.
“Dr. Charles Lieber, 61, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of making false statements and will be arraigned in federal court in Boston at a later date,” the Justice Department said Tuesday.
Lieber, former chair of Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was arrested in late January.
The school said he allegedly became a “strategic scientist” for Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China at the beginning of 2011 and then a contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015.
The Thousand Talents Plan is a prominent talent recruitment plans that seeks to lure Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts to bring knowledge and experience to China, according to court documents, and “they often reward individuals for stealing proprietary information.”
Under terms of a three-year contract between Lieber and Thousand Talents, WUT allegedly paid a monthly salary of up to $50,000 and living expenses up to nearly $158,000 at the time.
In exchange, Leiber was obligated to work for WUT “not less than nine months a year” by declaring international cooperation projects, organizing international conferences, applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of WUT.
Court documents said Lieber allegedly lied to federal authorities in 2018 and 2019 about his ties with WUT and involvement in the recruitment program.
“On or about April 24, 2018, during an interview with federal investigators, it is alleged that Lieber falsely stated that he was never asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Program, but that he ‘wasn’t sure’ how China categorized him.
“In November 2018, [National Institutes of Health] NIH inquired of Harvard about whether Lieber had failed to disclose his then-suspected relationship with WUT and China’s Thousand Talents Plan. Lieber allegedly caused Harvard to falsely tell NIH that Lieber ‘had no formal association with WUT’ after 2012, that ‘WUT continued to falsely exaggerate’ his involvement with WUT in subsequent years, and that Lieber ‘is not and has never been a participant in’ China’s Thousand Talents Plan,” the documents said.
The charge of making false statements provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
Lieber served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard, specializing in nanoscience since 2008. His research has been funded by more than $15 million in grants from the NIH and the Department of Defense.
The grants required disclosure of all sources of research support, potential financial conflicts of interest and all foreign collaboration.
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