The former chair of Harvard University's chemistry and chemical biology department was indicted today for allegedly lying about research funding while participating in China's Thousand Talents Program, the Department of Justice said.
Charles Lieber, 61, has been indicted on two counts by a federal grand jury. He faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
Lieber was arrested in January. He is accused of lying to federal authorities in 2018 and 2019 about his involvement in the program, a recruitment plan designed to attract high-level scientists to advance the China technology industry, and his affiliation with the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT).
Lieber stated in an April interview that he was never asked to participate in the program, and he "wasn't sure" how China categorized him.
In November 2018, the National Institutes of Health asked Harvard about whether Lieber had failed to disclose his then-suspected relationship with WUT and the Thousand Talents Program. Lieber allegedly caused Harvard to falsely tell NIH he "had no formal association with WUT" after 2012, that "WUT continued to falsely exaggerate" his involvement with WUT in subsequent years, and that he "is not and has never been a participant in" the Thousand Talents Program.
Lieber became a "strategic scientist" in 2011 at WUT, the Justice Department alleges, and later became a contractual participant in the Thousand Talents Program from at least 2012 through 2015, unknown to Harvard University.
According to the DOJ statement, this talent recruitment "often rewards individuals for stealing proprietary information."
"Under the terms of Lieber's three-year contract, WUT allegedly paid Lieber a salary of up to $50,000 USD per month, living expenses of up to 1 million Chinese Yuan (approximately $158,000 USD at the time) and awarded him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT," DOJ said in a release.
"In return, Lieber was obligated to work for WUT not less than nine months a year" by "declaring international cooperation projects, cultivating young teachers and Ph.D. students, organizing international conference(s), applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of (WUT)," the press release stated.
According to charging documents, since 2008, Lieber has served as the principal investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, specializing in the area of nanoscience. His research at the Lieber Research Group has been funded by more than $15 million in research grants from NIH and the Department of Defense.
Among other things, these grants required the disclosure of all sources of research support, potential financial conflicts of interest and all foreign collaboration.
Sarmat Misikov contributed to this report.