On Tuesday, the prosecutors said that the renowned nanoscientist and former chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department, in his quest for a Nobel Prize in 2011, agreed to become a “strategic scientist” at the Wuhan University of Technology in China.
The prosecution added that he participated in a Chinese recruitment drive called the Thousand Talents Program, and that China uses this programme to recruit foreign researchers so that they share their knowledge with them. They clarified that even though participating in the programme was not a crime, Mr Lieber lied to authorities when inquired about his involvement.
Mr Lieber pleaded not guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of making false statements, and two counts of failing to file reports for a foreign bank account in China.
The Harvard professor’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, had argued that the prosecution didn’t have any proof of the charges. He also accused the investigators of not keeping any record of their interviews with his client prior to his arrest.
Mr Mukasey had also said that Mr Lieber “wasn’t charged with illegally transferring any technology or proprietary information to China” and that prosecutors would be unable to prove that Mr Lieber acted “knowingly, intentionally, or wilfully, or that he made any material false statement”.
On Tuesday, Mr Lieber, who is battling cancer, sat silently as the verdict was announced following nearly three hours of jury deliberations and a six-day trial.
Mr Mukasey said: “We respect the verdict and will keep up the fight.”
In January 2020, Mr Lieber was charged as part of the US Department of Justice’s so-called “China Initiative”. He has been on paid administrative leave from Harvard since being arrested then.
Prosecutors claim that the professor deliberately hid his ties to China and his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan. He was also accused of hiding his income from the programme — including $50,000 a month from the Wuhan University of Technology, up to $158,000 in living expenses and more than $1.5 million in grants.
Mr Lieber in exchange agreed to publish articles, organise international conferences and apply for patents on behalf of the Chinese university, the prosecution said.
Additional reporting by agencies