Harvard professor arrested for failing to disclose $50,000 per month he received from China

Dr. Charles Lieber, a professor who led Harvard’s chemistry department has been arrested and accused of lying about his ties to a Chinese program that recruited scientists and paid them to share their expertise at Chinese universities.

According to a criminal complaint, Lieber failed to disclose that he was being paid a salary of up to $50,000 per month and up to $158,000 per year in living expenses by China’s Thousand Talents Plan and the Wuhan University of Technology. Federal investigators also determined that Lieber was awarded more than $1.5 million to establish a nanotechnology research lab at WUT…

Simultaneously, Lelling said, Lieber was receving U.S. grant funds from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.

Lieber is accused of making false statements about his connections to China on National Institutes of Health grant applications. Lelling said those programs required Lieber to disclose if he was working with any foreign power.

Lieber’s home was raided by the FBI today. Photos at the link above show agents removing boxes of material from the home.

The program Lieber is accused of participating in is known as the Thousand Talents Plan. A Senate report published last Noevember identified the Thousand Talents Plan as an open attempt to transmit US taxpayer funded research to China in order to fuel its national development. From the report:

Launched in 2008, the Thousand Talents Plan incentivizes individuals engaged in research and development in the United States to transmit the knowledge and research they gain here to China in exchange for salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives. China unfairly uses the American research and expertise it obtains for its own economic and military gain. In recent years, federal agencies have discovered talent recruitment plan members who downloaded sensitive electronic research files before leaving to return to China, submitted false information when applying for grant funds, and willfully failed to disclose receiving money from the Chinese government on U.S. grant applications.

This report exposes how American taxpayer funded research has contributed to China’s global rise over the last 20 years. During that time, China openly recruited U.S.-based researchers, scientists, and experts in the public and private sector to provide China with knowledge and intellectual capital in exchange for monetary gain and other benefits.

Lieber isn’t the only case of recruitment of a leading scientist by China though he may be the most prominent. Last August, federal prosecutors revealed an indictment of University of Kansas professor Franklin Tao:

The seven-page indictment alleges Tao signed a “Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor Employment Contract” on or about May 1, 2018, a deal prosecutors say is part of a talent-recruitment program of the Chinese government. The indictment charged that Tao omitted mention of the contract in a conflict-of-interest form he filed that September. Through that omission, the indictment alleged, Tao “knowingly and intentionally” submitted false statements that enabled him to defraud the university by continuing with his work at Kansas.

And last May, Emory University fired two professors over very similar allegations of undisclosed connections to China:

Xiao-Jiang Li and his wife Shihua Li, both professors of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine, have been dismissed this week, Yahoo Finance learned. The investigation on Li was prompted by a letter that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sent to over 10,000 academic research universities last August. The letter urged institutions to work with NIH and other agencies including the FBI to crack down on foreign influence, particularly from China. Recipients of U.S. federal funds have to disclose if they are receiving funds from other countries and are not allowed to share their grant applications with foreign governments…

“Through an internal investigation, Emory discovered that two of its faculty members named as key personnel on NIH grant awards to Emory University had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China. Emory has shared this information with the NIH, and the faculty members are no longer employed at Emory,” Emory said in a statement on Thursday.

Here’s Sen. Rob Portman talking about the conclusions of the Senate report quoted above. According to Portman, the FBI revealed the total budget for these Chinese recruitment programs, of which the Thousand Talents Plan is just one, is two trillion dollars over 12 years. Why bother to send spies when you can just pay professors to hand over their research?