Harvard chemistry chair charged with lying to Defense Department about work in China

Harvard chemistry chair charged with lying to Defense Department about work in China
© Scott Eisen/Getty Images

The chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department was charged with making false statements to the Defense Department when he was asked about his work in China.

Charles Lieber, 60, was charged on one count of making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and will come before the federal court in Boston Tuesday afternoon, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Lieber has received more than $15 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense since 2008, according to court documents. Those grants mandate him to inform the government of any “significant foreign financial conflicts of interest,” like receiving money from a foreign government, according to the department’s release. 


But officials allege that the professor served as a “Strategic Scientist” for the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in central China since 2011, without Harvard University’s knowledge. They also say that between 2012 and 2017, Lieber participated in China’s "Thousand Talents Plan," in which the country recruits foreign experts to bring their talents to Chinese projects and rewards them for stealing “proprietary” information, according to the release. 

The Harvard professor allegedly received $50,000 per month for participating, about $158,000 for living expenses and $1.5 million to create a research lab at the university. The contract with WUT required Lieber to work 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” the university.

The complaint says that Lieber made false statements about participating in the Thousand Talents Plan and about his association with WUT. He told investigators in April 2018 that he was never asked to get involved in the plan and “wasn’t sure” how China perceived his role.

Harvard also reportedly supported the professor when NIH investigated him in November 2018, saying “WUT continued to falsely exaggerate” Lieber's involvement with them, according to the Justice Department.

Harvard said in a statement obtained by The Hill that the charges against the professor are "very serious," and Lieber is on indefinite administrative leave without access to the campus. 

"Harvard is cooperating with federal authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, and is conducting its own review of the alleged misconduct," the university said.


The Hill has reached out to Lieber for comment. The Department of Defense referred a reporter to the DOJ, which did not respond to a request for comment.

The Justice Department also announced the arrests of two Chinese nationalists: Yanqing Ye and Zaosong Zheng. 

Updated at 1:38 p.m.