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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Former Department of Chemistry at Harvard admits to having taken tens of thousands of dollars out of China

The former head of the Department of Chemistry at Harvard University, accused of hiding ties to China, confessed to taking tens of thousands of dollars out of China, a video submitted to a federal court on December 17 shows.

The video, filmed while federal investigators were questioning nanoscientific Charles Lieber, was shown to a jury during a trial on Friday, the fourth day of the trial, on Lieber’s alleged false claims of Chinese funding.

The 62-year-old Harvard professor claimed that he did not accept payments from the Chinese university, other than reimbursement of his travel expenses to China. But he quickly changed account after Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Robert Plumb and Kara Spice approached him with copies of evidence, including a bilingual contract he signed with Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in 2011.

“This is awful,” Lieber, wearing a blue jacket, told campus police officers during a three-hour interrogation that took place on the day of Lieber’s arrest nearly two years ago. “Now that you’ve brought this up, yes, I remember,” he said on the tape, local media reported.

The five-year agreement described Lieber as a “strategic scientist” at a Chinese school that entitled him to receive $ 50,000 a month with an estimated $ 158,000 in living expenses. It also mentioned his future participation in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, a government program to attract leading scientific and specialized experts from around the world.

Later in an interview, FBI agents showed Lieber an email he wrote asking Wuhan University to pay half of his salary in cash and deposit the other half into a Chinese bank account.

“I can’t even believe I did it,” Lieber said in response, local media reported. “This is my mistake, and obviously I was wrong.”

Charles Lieber (left) and his defense attorney Mark Mukasi leave the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, Dec. 17. (Student of Liu / The Epoch Times)

Lieber said he probably made no more than six trips to China in 2012 and was paid between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000 each time, according to local media reports. He spent the money – between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000 in total – on groceries and living expenses, such as housekeeping.

The payment was made in $ 100 bills, which Lieber brought back in his luggage, he said. He did not declare them at customs and did not pay taxes on the money.

“If I brought it back, I didn’t announce it, and it’s illegal,” he told the FBI agents.

In the tape, Lieber repeatedly stated that he could not remember the exact amount of money, blaming his “electoral memory” for the blunders, according to local reports.

As of 2014, a Chinese bank account had a balance equivalent to $ 200,000 in the name of Lieber, which the scientist said he never accessed, in part due to his deteriorating health and recent cancer diagnosis.

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“Very dishonest”

Since 2008, Lieber’s research team at Harvard University, led by Lieber, has received more than $ 15 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense.

A court document reveals that Lieber was a contractual participant in the Plan for a Thousand Talents from at least 2012 to 2017.

While participation in the Chinese recruiting program is not illegal in itself, it constitutes a foreign conflict of interest that researchers must disclose in order to receive federal grants.

Lieber admitted that “it looks like I was being very dishonest” when the Department of Defense questioned him about his participation in the 2018 talent program.

“I was not completely transparent by any imagination,” he told agents on the tape.

Charles Lieber, Mark Mukasey
Harvard University professor Charles Lieber (left) leaves federal court with his attorney Mark Mukasi in Boston, Massachusetts, December 14, 2021. (AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)

Lieber said that what motivated him to take part in the talent program was not money, but a desire to gain recognition. He said that at the time he was “younger and stupid.”

“I’m not really competitive, but if I get other people to tackle any aspect based on my research, it’s a leak down,” Lieber said, according to local media reports. “Every scientist wants to receive a Nobel Prize.”

The Harvard professor later tried to distance himself from the Wuhan collaboration, including canceling a trip to school in June 2015.

In a 2018 email to his fellow researcher two days after his interview with the Department of Defense, Lieber expressed concern about a Chinese web page that listed him as the head of a research laboratory in Wuhan, saying, “I lost a lot of sleep worrying about everything. this. these things were last night and I want to start taking steps to fix it sooner rather than later. “

“I will be careful what I discuss with Harvard University and at this time none of this will be released to government investigators,” he wrote in an email that was also filed with the court on Friday.

However, during interrogation, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong, except that “he should not have entered into a contract and accepted money.”

“You’re right, it was wrong,” Lieber said when FBI agents asked why he chose to withhold information from Harvard and the US authorities. “I was afraid of arrest, as I am now.”

Lieber faces six federal charges, including lying to federal authorities, filing false tax returns, and failing to provide information about his foreign banks and financial accounts. He pleaded not guilty to all six.

Student Liu contributed to this report.

Eva Fu

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Eva Fu, a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times, specializes in US-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights.

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