Charles Lieber: Harvard professor guilty of hiding ties to Chinese programme

Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, The 62-year-old was charged in 2020 as part of a US campaign to counter economic espionage from China

A Harvard University professor has been convicted of hiding ties to a China-run recruitment programme.

A Boston jury found Charles Lieber guilty of making false statements to authorities, filing false tax returns and failing to report a Chinese bank account.

The 62-year-old was charged in 2020 as part of a US campaign to counter economic espionage from China.

However, some critics say this campaign harms academic research.

Prosecutors said Lieber knowingly hid his involvement in China's "Thousand Talents Plan", which aims to attract foreign research specialists. It has been flagged by the US as a security concern in the past.

Lieber, a former head of Harvard's department of chemistry and chemical biology, had in 2011 joined China's Wuhan University of Technology as a scientist.

He was given a monthly salary of $50,000 (£37,000), in addition to living expenses of up to $158,000 for this role.

The filings say he was also given more than $1.5m to establish a research lab at the university and, in return, was expected to work for the university, applying for patents and publishing articles in its name.

Participation in the programme is not a crime.

However prosecutors said Lieber had lied to authorities about his participation, his affiliation with the university in Wuhan, and failed to declare income earned in China.

He had previously been awarded $15m in grants from the US National Institute of Health and the US Department of Defence.

Recipients of these grants have to disclose any conflicts of interest, including financial support from foreign governments or organisations.

Lieber's defence lawyer Marc Mukasey said prosecutors lacked proof of the charges, saying they were unable to prove that Lieber acted "knowingly, intentionally, or wilfully, or that he made any material false statement." Lieber himself had pleaded not guilty.

The case is among the highest profile to come from what the U.S. Department of Justice's calls the "China Initiative".

The programme, launched in 2018 during President Trump's administration, aimed to curb theft of research and critical economic US intelligence by China.

However. some have criticised the programme, saying it threatens academic research, disproportionately targets Chinese researchers and undermines the US' competitiveness in research and technology.

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