A top Harvard University professor was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Boston on charges of lying about his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program, prosecutors said.
Dr. Charles Lieber, 61, will be arraigned in federal court in Boston on two counts of making false statements to investigators regarding his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a program designed to lure people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's office.
Lieber's lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said in an email that "the government has this wrong.'' The attorney said Lieber has dedicated his life to science and his students.
"He is the victim in this case, not the perpetrator,'' Mukasey said. "But he's also a fighter, he always has been, so we're not taking this lying down. We're fighting back. And 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."
The professor was arrested on Jan. 28 at his Ivy League office, where he was chair of Harvard's Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department. Following his arrest, the university placed him on indefinite administrative leave.
Investigators allege that beginning in 2011, Lieber became a "Strategic Scientist" at Wuhan University of Technology in China, unbeknownst to Harvard University. From at least 2012 through 2015, according to prosecutors, Lieber was a contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan.
Under Lieber's program contract, prosecutors say he was paid $50,000 a month by WUT and living expenses up to $158,000. He was also awarded more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at the Chinese university, prosecutors said.
In exchange, prosecutors say, Lieber was obligated to work for WUT no less than nine months a year during which time he would publish articles, organize international conferences and apply for patents on behalf of the Chinese university, among other things.
According to court documents, when Lieber was questioned by the Department of Defense investigators in April 2018, he denied he had ever participated in the Thousand Talents program.
Lieber allegedly lied for the second time in November 2018, court documents show, when the National Institutes of Health inquired of Harvard whether Lieber had failed to disclose his relationship with WUT and China’s Thousand Talents Plan. Prosecutors allege Lieber caused Harvard to falsely tell the NIH that Lieber was not involved with WUT after 2012, that the Chinese university was falsely exaggerating his involvement, and that Lieber had never participated in China's recruitment program.
Lieber has served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard since 2008. His work there, specializing in the area of nanoscience, has been funded by more than $15 million in research grants from the NIH and the DOD.
Those federal grants required Lieber to disclose all sources of his research support, potential financial conflicts of interest and all foreign collaboration.
Lieber, who has been at Harvard since 1992, is currently free on $1 million bond and will be arraigned at a later date.
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.