Harvard chemistry professor indicted for concealing connection to China's Thousand Talents Plan

In January Dr. Charles Lieber, the former chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, was arrested for lying about his close ties to China. Yesterday Dr. Lieber was indicted by a grand jury, moving this case one step closer to trial. The indictment might have come months ago if not for the coronavirus which halted the work of grand juries around the country. From the DOJ Press Release:

It is alleged that in 2018 and 2019, Lieber lied to federal authorities about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan and his affiliation with WUT. On or about April 24, 2018, during an interview with federal investigators, it is alleged that Lieber falsely stated that he was never asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Program, but that he “wasn’t sure” how China categorized him. In November 2018, NIH inquired of Harvard about whether Lieber had failed to disclose his then-suspected relationship with WUT and China’s Thousand Talents Plan. Lieber allegedly caused Harvard to falsely tell NIH that Lieber “had no formal association with WUT” after 2012, that “WUT continued to falsely exaggerate” his involvement with WUT in subsequent years, and that Lieber “is not and has never been a participant in” China’s Thousand Talents Plan.

That’s what Lieber claimed when asked by investigators but in fact, he had signed a contract with the Thousand Talents Program and was receiving a substantial amount of money for his participation:

It is alleged that, unbeknownst to Harvard University, beginning in 2011, Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China. He later became contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015…Under the terms of Lieber’s three-year Thousand Talents 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. 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].”

All of this seems pretty clear cut but Lieber’s defense attorney is saying his client doesn’t care about money and is the victim here:

“The government has this wrong,” said his trial counsel, Marc Mukasey. “Professor Lieber has dedicated his life to science and to his students. Not money, not fame, just his science and his students. He is the victim in this case, not the perpetrator. 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.”

I’m sorry but it’s hard to square the claim Lieber doesn’t care about money with the fact he was getting $750,000 per year for at least three years from China. That’s a lot money to not care about. Unless he has receipts showing he donated all the cash to charity, I think it’s safe to conclude he does care about money.

Dr. Lieber is one of several academics who have been targeted by the DOJ for their involvement in the Thousand Talents Program. Last month a University of Arkansas professor Dr. Simon Ang was arrested for hiding his involvement with the program.

In addition, Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li, a professor from Emory, pleaded guilty last month to filing a false tax return which omitted $500,000 of income he received from the Thousand Talents program.