Years after being swept away by the controversial Trump-era ‘China Initiative’ — and months after being convicted on six felony counts — famed Harvard scientist Charles Lieber is seeking an acquittal or a new trial, because his lawyer argues that the jury’s decision would not stand. today.
Lieber was convicted in December of lying to the federal government about his ties to China’s Thousand Talents program. He was arrested in 2020 as part of the “China Initiative” division, which was set up to stop the alleged theft of American intellectual property by the Chinese government.
Civil rights activists and scientists have lambasted the program – and last month President Biden announced the Justice Department would drop the “China Initiative” name and change several policies. Following several high-profile cases of prosecutors dropping charges against researchers, Lieber’s attorney said in federal court in Boston that the move had become “an embarrassment,” according to a Law360 report.
“No rational juror could have found Professor Lieber guilty based on the evidence presented to the jury,” wrote Lieber’s lawyers in a motion for acquittal.
This evidence, they added, included:
Outdated emails from people on the other side of the world who could not be cross-examined during the trial, government officials who did not remember questions and answers in their interview with Professor Lieber, interviews “statements” which were never properly commemorated and were, in fact, misrepresented by the government, and a statement after the arrest which was confusing and indecipherable.
China’s Thousand Talents Program was designed to attract foreign scientists with funding and other resources. Lieber has been accused of concealing a relationship with Wuhan University of Technology, where he agreed to be a “strategic scientist” and open a lab in exchange for funding and participation in Thousand talent.
“He repeatedly lied to his employer, the federal government and taxpayers to fraudulently maintain access to federal research funds,” FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said in a statement.
Lieber, currently on administrative leave from Harvard, was found guilty of six felony counts, including two counts of misrepresentation, two counts of filing false tax returns and two counts of failing to disclose a bank account. foreign (in this case Chinese). The three types of charges carry maximum sentences of five years, three years and five years, respectively, totaling up to 26 years plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
The scientist has yet to be convicted – but weeks after his jury verdict, prosecutors dropped all charges against another professor involved in the China Initiative, Gang Chen of MIT. Chen had been accused of lying and omitting information on US federal grant applications.
“The dismissal of Professor Chen’s case, just weeks after the verdicts against Professor Lieber, came amid continued and growing calls for an end to the China Initiative – and intimidation and harassment accompanying legal action by academics,” Lieber’s attorneys wrote in court documents.
Just yesterday, it was revealed that the DoJ had terminated its investigation into Yale professor and stem cell pioneer Haifan Lin.
Mukasey declined a request for comment.
“At the very least, the Court should grant a new trial in this ill-conceived and ill-advised case,” Lieber’s attorneys wrote.