A US federal jury on Wednesday will hear lawyers deliver opening statements in the trial of a Harvard University nanotechnology professor accused of lying to authorities about his ties to a China-run recruitment programme and concealing funding he received from Beijing.
Charles Lieber, a former chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, is charged in the highest-profile case to result from a US crackdown on Chinese influence within universities.
Lieber, 62, has pleaded not guilty to six false statement and tax charges. His lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said Lieber “didn’t hide anything, and he didn’t get paid as the government alleges”.
Combatting Espionage, Research Theft
Prosecutors charged Lieber in January 2020 as part of a Justice Department “China Initiative” started during former president Donald Trump’s administration to combat Chinese economic espionage and research theft.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has not backed away from the initiative, despite critics who say it went too far in pursuing academics and that it overly targeted Chinese nationals.
The first trial of an academic – a Tennessee professor – ended in a mistrial and later an acquittal. Prosecutors this year dropped charges against six other researchers.
A review of how it approaches countering threats posed by China is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.
Prosecutors said Lieber in 2011 became a “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology and through it participated in a Chinese recruitment drive called the Thousand Talents Programme.
US authorities say China uses the programme to entice foreign researchers to share their knowledge with China in exchange for perks including research funding.
- Reuters, with George Russell