BOSTON – Prosecutors and defense attorneys gave opening statements on Wednesday in the closely watched trial of Harvard chemistry professor Charles Lieber in Massachusetts federal court, with Mr. Lieber’s defense team describing the conduct of the scientist as reckless but not criminal.
Renowned nanotechnology researcher and expert Lieber faces six criminal charges over what the government considers false statements to federal investigators regarding his relationship with a Chinese university as well as violations tax and financial reporting related to alleged concealment of payments from a Chinese talent program aimed at recruiting foreign experts.
“This case is not about Charlie in China, but reckless driving in Cambridge,” said Marc Mukasey, a lawyer representing Lieber. Mr Mukasey described his client as a “complete workaholic” whose incriminating statements to investigators admitting he had committed potential tax crimes were just examples of the professor being his own harshest critic.
Mr Mukasey said the trial would show serious flaws in the government’s record, including that the government did not have access to key documents and bank statements needed to prove their claims. By arresting Mr Lieber, Mr Mukasey said, prosecutors had “turned off one of the beacons of the world of science.”
Prosecutors alleged that Lieber was recruited into the Thousand Talent program, a Chinese government-led initiative to attract foreign experts to China. They say he was paid up to $ 50,000 a month to help mentor students at a Chinese university and to collaborate on science efforts with scientists there, but failed to properly disclose his links in grant applications to the US government. Participation in Chinese government programs is not illegal, but making false statements to the government can be criminal in many circumstances.
The government presented emails into evidence which they said showed Mr. Lieber had been paid for his participation in the program, partly in cash and partly through an offshore Chinese bank account opened for him – and that he was paid for his participation in the program. had not paid income taxes or correctly reported the bank account to the government as required by financial disclosure laws. Prosecutors said they were preparing to present video evidence of Mr. Lieber speaking to investigators and admitting to giving money he received from China to his wife for personal expenses without stating it on tax forms. .
Prosecutors called three former Harvard employees to the stand: Jennifer Ponting, a grants administrator; Jeremy Bloxham, former Dean of Science; and RenÃ©e Donlon, former administrative assistant to Mr. Lieber. Prosecutors aimed to show that Mr. Lieber had not disclosed to the university his participation in the Thousand Talent program. In cross-examination by lawyers for Mr. Lieber, Ms. Ponting said that Mr. Lieber may have said that he was not sure how the Chinese university classified him.
The lawsuit is a critical test of the Justice Department’s efforts to stop the transfer of US technology, research and other proprietary information to China. U.S. officials fear that the loss of leadership in key scientific areas could lead the United States to be eclipsed as a global superpower, and have expressed concern over the tactics used by China to attract scientific talent.
Prosecutors accused more than a dozen academics of lying about their Chinese affiliations when they requested federal taxpayer support for their research. While such affiliations are not illegal, prosecutors said funding agencies need a clear picture of themselves before making decisions on which projects to support.
In a recent case which is also part of the initiative, University of Tennessee-Knoxville professor Anming Hu was acquitted in a similar case for hiding his ties to China during a grant application from research to work on a NASA project.
Write to Byron Tau at [email protected]
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