Harvard Professor Faces Additional Charges Over Ties With Chinese University

Harvard Professor Faces Additional Charges Over Ties With Chinese University
Charles Lieber attends an award ceremony in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on May 13, 2012. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
Frank Fang

U.S. federal prosecutors charged a Harvard chemistry professor on July 28 for failing to report money he received from a university in China to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the government tax collection agency.

Charles Lieber, 61, former chair of Harvard University’s chemistry and chemical biology department, was arrested in January for allegedly lying about his participation in a Chinese state-run job recruitment program called the Thousand Talents Plan.

In June, Lieber was indicted on two counts of making false statements to federal authorities.

The talent program was rolled out by Beijing in 2008 to recruit promising science and tech researchers from foreign countries to work in China—for the ultimate goal of fulfilling its ambition for global tech dominance.

On Tuesday, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of making and subscribing a false income tax return and two counts of failing to file reports of foreign banks and financial accounts, known as FBAR reports, with the IRS, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said.

According to court documents, Lieber began working for the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT), which is located in central China’s Hubei Province, as a “strategic scientist” in 2011. He was also a contractual participant in the Thousand Talents program from at least 2012 through 2017.

Under his three-year contract in the talent program from 2012 to 2015, WUT paid Lieber a salary of $50,000 per month with a living expense of up to $150,000, according to prosecutors. He was also awarded $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT.

Additionally, prosecutors pointed out that Lieber lied to federal authorities about his involvement in the talent program and his affiliation with WUT in 2018 and 2019.

Lieber did not disclose his earnings from WUT and the talent programs on his federal income tax returns in 2013 and 2014. Additionally, he did not disclose his bank account at a Chinese bank that the WUT used to deposit his salary. According to prosecutors, Lieber opened the bank account with WUT officials during his trip to Wuhan in 2012.

According to the IRS website, individuals and corporations in the United States need to file an FBAR when their foreign bank accounts hold more than $10,000 at any time during the calendar year reported.
While being funded by the Chinese university, Lieber was also receiving federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which requires its grant recipients to report foreign activities.

Lieber, acting as principal investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, was awarded more than $15 million in research funding from the NIH and Department of Defense since 2008, according to court documents.

Lieber faces up to three years in prison and a fine of $100,000 for his false income tax filing. The second charge of failing to file an FBAR is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The Thousand Talents Plan and other similar Chinese job recruitment programs have come under close scrutiny by U.S. officials in recent years.

On July 7, Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), warned about China’s motives during a speech at the Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute.
“Through its talent recruitment programs, like the so-called Thousand Talents Program, the Chinese government tries to entice scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China—even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating our export controls and conflict-of-interest rules,” Wray said.
In May, a professor at the University of Arkansas was charged with wire fraud for failing to disclose funding from the Thousand Talents program while receiving funding from NASA. In the same month, a former Emory University professor was convicted for tax fraud related to his earnings while participating in the same talent program.

Wray added: “To put it bluntly, this means American taxpayers are effectively footing the bill for China’s own technological development. China then leverages its ill-gotten gains to undercut U.S. research institutions and companies, blunting our nation’s advancement and costing American jobs.”

Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
Related Topics