Lieber became a "Strategic Scientist" at the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) and, later, a contractual participant in China's Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015.
Washington: A Harvard professor was convicted by a U.S. federal jury on Wednesday (December 22) in connection with lying to federal authorities about his affiliation with a Chinese-run recruitment program.
Charles Lieber, 62, was convicted following a six-day jury trial of two counts of making false statements to federal authorities, two counts of making and subscribing a false income tax return and two counts of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts (FBAR) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel will sentence Lieber at a later date that has not yet been scheduled, The US Justice Department said in a statement.
Lieber was indicted in June 2020 and was subsequently charged in a superseding indictment in July 2020. He served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, which received more than $15 million in federal research grants between 2008 and 2019. Unbeknownst to his employer-Harvard University, Lieber became a "Strategic Scientist" at the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) and, later, a contractual participant in China's Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015.
China's Thousand Talents Plan is one of the most prominent 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. Under the terms of Lieber's three-year Thousand Talents contract, WUT paid Lieber a salary of up to $50,000 per month, living expenses of up to $150,000 and awarded him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT.
In 2018 and 2019, Lieber lied to federal authorities about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan and his affiliation with WUT, the justice department said. In tax years 2013 and 2014, Lieber earned income from WUT in the form of salary and other payments made to him under the Strategic Scientist and Thousand Talents Contracts, which he did not disclose to the IRS on his federal income tax returns.
"Lieber, together with WUT officials, opened a bank account at a Chinese bank during a trip to Wuhan in 2012. Thereafter, between at least 2013 and 2015, WUT periodically deposited portions of Lieber's salary into that account. U.S. taxpayers are required to report the existence of any foreign bank account that holds more than $10,000 at any time during a given year by the filing an FBAR with the IRS. Lieber failed to file FBARs for the years 2014 and 2015," the statement read.
The case is among the highest-profile to come from the U.S. Department of Justice's so-called "China Initiative." The effort launched in 2018 to curb economic espionage from China has faced criticism that it harms academic research and amounts to racial profiling of Chinese researchers.