The FBI has arrested the chair of Harvard University’s chemistry department.
They claim he lied about his work for the Chinese government.
Authorities have been investigating numerous liberal institutions of learning for aiding China to steal intellectual and military properties that the Chinese can use.
In return, China was paying off professors and the universities themselves.
Officials estimate that Chinese theft of intellectual property costs American businesses tens of billions of dollars every year. Charles Lieber, the Harvard professor, lied to Defense Department investigators when they questioned him in April of 2018.
They had asked him if he had been involved in the Thousand Talents Plan, designed to attract top-flight academics and experts to work in China.
Although Lieber denied any involvement with the Thousand Talents Plan, he had actually signed a contract with them years earlier and he was trying to hide his connection to the program. He was making as much as $50,000 a month working for the Chinese.
Lieber, 60, was under contract as part of the Thousand Talents Plan from 2012 to 2017, according to a criminal complaint filed against him. As the recipient of federal grant money, Lieber was required to disclose to the government any significant foreign financial conflicts of interest, including payments from foreign entities.
An expert in nanotechnology, Lieber was arrested Tuesday morning by federal agents. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Harvard said in a statement that he has been placed on leave.
“The charges brought by the U.S. government against Professor Lieber are extremely serious,” the statement said. “Harvard is cooperating with federal authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, and is conducting its own review of the alleged misconduct.”
Peter Zeidenberg, a lawyer who has represented Chinese Americans accused of espionage, said in an email that the Justice Department “has launched an all-out war on any U.S. scientist associated with the 1000 Talent or other Chinese Talent programs.”
He said that is a major shift in U.S. practice after years of lax scrutiny of the issue.