Harvard professor’s trial a test of DOJ’s China prosecutions

Dec 13, 2021, 8:16 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2021, 2:58 pm
FILE - Harvard University professor Charles Lieber departs federal court, in Boston, Jan. 30, 2020,...

FILE - Harvard University professor Charles Lieber departs federal court, in Boston, Jan. 30, 2020, following his arrest on allegations he hid his involvement in a program designed to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China. Jury selection is slated to start Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in the trial of Lieber, the former chair of Harvard's department of chemistry and chemical biology. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

BOSTON (AP) — The trial of a Harvard University professor charged with hiding his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program is the latest bellwether in the U.S. Justice Department’s controversial effort to crackdown on economic espionage by China.

Opening statements in the trial of Charles Lieber, the former chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, begin Wednesday after jury selection was completed Tuesday in Boston federal court.

Lieber’s trial is among the highest profile cases to come from the U.S. Department of Justice’s so-called “China Initiative,” which was launched in 2018 under former President Donald Trump but has faced criticism that it harms academic research and amounts to racial profiling of Chinese researchers.

Federal prosecutors and Lieber’s defense team didn’t comment Tuesday, but in legal filings ahead of trial, prosecutors said they’ll show Lieber deliberately made false statements about his participation in a Chinese university program to protect his reputation and career.

Lieber’s lawyer, Marc Mukasey, argued in his trial brief that prosecutors will be unable to prove that he acted “knowingly, intentionally, or willfully, or that he made any material false statement.” He also stressed Lieber, who remains on paid leave from Harvard, isn’t charged with illegally transferring any technology or proprietary information to China.

“The government has this wrong,” Mukasey said last year. “When justice is done, Charlie’s good name will be restored.”

Lieber was arrested last January on allegations that he hid his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a program designed to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China.

Lieber, prosecutors said, was paid $50,000 a month by the Wuhan University of Technology in China, given up to $158,000 in living expenses and awarded more than $1.5 million in grants to establish a research lab at the Chinese university.

In exchange, prosecutors say, Lieber agreed to publish articles, organize international conferences and apply for patents on behalf of the Chinese university.

He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include two counts of making false statements to authorities and four tax offenses for failing to report income from the Wuhan university.

At the time, Lieber was one of the biggest names — and one of the few not of Chinese origin — swept up in the wide-ranging China Initiative, which was ostensibly launched to prosecute trade secret theft, hacking, and economic espionage.

The effort also focuses on threats to national infrastructure and “efforts to influence the American public and policymakers without proper transparency,” according to the Justice Department’s website.

The department hasn’t provided a comprehensive list of all the cases prosecuted under the initiative and their outcomes, but said Tuesday that the tally includes at least nine economic espionage prosecutions, seven theft of trade secrets cases and 12 matters involving fraud on universities or other grant making institutions.

Hundreds of faculty members at Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple and other prominent colleges, meanwhile, have signed onto letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland calling on him to end the initiative.

The academics say the effort is compromises the nation’s competitiveness in research and technology and has had a chilling effect on recruiting foreign scholars. The letters also complain the investigations have disproportionally targeted researchers of Chinese origin.

Even Andrew Lelling, a former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts who was an early leader on the nationwide effort and whose office brought charges against Lieber, believes the initiative needs reform.

“The Initiative has drifted and, in some significant ways, lost its focus,” he wrote in part on LinkedIn last week. “DOJ should revamp, and shut down, parts of the program, to avoid needlessly chilling scientific and business collaborations with Chinese partners.”

Lelling, who is now in private practice, declined to comment directly on the Lieber case Tuesday, but argued that cases like it were important in bringing attention to the growing threat of economic espionage by the Chinese government.

“There was widespread concern that the Chinese government was using research collaborations to siphon off U.S. technology, so researchers failing to disclose their China connections to U.S. grant-makers was concerning,” he said. “If the U.S. government doesn’t know the extent of U.S. research collaboration with China, it can’t properly develop policy in that area.”

At the same time, Lelling argued that prosecutors should play out the remaining cases to their conclusion and focus on only the most serious cases against academics going forward.

“Three years later, the academic community is fully aware of the issue,” he said. “Schools have tightened their disclosure requirements in this area and researchers are very worried about government enforcement. In short, deterrence has been achieved.”

Wyn Hornbuckle, a DOJ spokesperson, said Tuesday that the department is reviewing its approach to countering threats posed by the Chinese government and will provide additional information in the coming weeks.

Garland told lawmakers during an October hearing on the initiative that China remains a “serious threat” to American intellectual property in terms of espionage, cyber incursions and ransomware.

But he also stressed that “cases will not be pursued based on discrimination, but only on facts justifying them.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in southwest, 6 killed

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani army helicopter crashed during an overnight mission in the country’s southwest, killing all six military personnel who were on board, including both pilots, the military said Monday. The crash took place in the district of Hernai, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. […]
1 day ago
A worker cooks burgers at Zing Burger store in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Richard K...
Associated Press

Lights out, ovens off: Europe preps for winter energy crisis

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — As Europe heads into winter in the throes of an energy crisis, offices are getting chillier. Statues and historic buildings are going dark. Bakers who can’t afford to heat their ovens are talking about giving up, while fruit and vegetable growers face letting greenhouses stand idle. In poorer eastern Europe, people […]
1 day ago
FILE - A woman shows her ballot to journalists prior to voting in a referendum in Luhansk, Luhansk ...
Associated Press

Ukrainians scared by Russia’s preordained referendums

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — After seven weary months of war, many Ukrainians fear more suffering and political repression awaits them as referendums orchestrated by the Kremlin with help from gun-toting police portend Russia’s imminent annexation of four occupied regions. Many residents fled the regions before the referendums got underway, scared about being forced to vote […]
1 day ago
Villager women empty their cotton filled shawls on a pile after collecting it from cotton crops, wh...
Associated Press

Pakistan floods raise fears of hunger after crops wrecked

KHAIRPUR, Pakistan (AP) — Like every year, Arz Mohammed had planted his little patch of land in southern Pakistan with cotton. The crop would earn him enough so that, as he puts it, his family of five wouldn’t be reduced to begging. Then came the deluge. Pakistan’s massive floods this summer collapsed Mohammed’s home and […]
1 day ago
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno speaks at a regular news conference in Tokyo Monda...
Associated Press

Japan bans export of chemical weapons goods to Russia

TOKYO (AP) — Japan expressed grave concern about Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine as the top government spokesman on Monday announced an additional ban on exports of chemical weapons-related goods to Russia. “As the world’s only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, we strongly demand that the threat or use of nuclear […]
1 day ago
FILE- Pedestrians pass a currency exchange sign outside a shop in London, Sept. 23, 2022. The Briti...
Associated Press

Tax cut plans pull British pound to 4 decade lows

LONDON (AP) — The British pound has resumed a slide against the U.S. dollar that picked up pace last week after the U.K.’s new government outlined plans to cut taxes and boost spending. The pound dipped as low as $1.0349 per U.S. dollar early Monday but then rebounded to $1.0671, down 2.3%. The tax-cut plan […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Harvard professor’s trial a test of DOJ’s China prosecutions