Ex-Harvard professor on house arrest for China ties

Former Harvard professor Charles Lieber has been sentenced to six months of house arrest on Wednesday, according to US media.

US media reported on Wednesday that Charles Lieber, a former Harvard professor, has been sentenced to six months of house arrest. Lieber was found guilty in 2021 of multiple charges, including making false statements to authorities, filing false tax returns, and failing to report a Chinese bank account. However, some critics argue that the US campaign to counter economic espionage from China is unfairly targeting the academic community.

Lieber's defense team requested that he be spared prison time due to his battle with cancer. In addition to the house arrest, US District Judge Rya Zobel in Boston sentenced him to two years of supervised release and one day in prison, which he has already served following his arrest.

In addition to the six months of house arrest, Charles Lieber has been ordered to pay a fine of $50,000 (£40,100), according to reports by Bloomberg and Semafor. Lieber's defense lawyers argued that he has already suffered enough because his reputation has been destroyed and he is remorseful for his actions.

Prosecutors had recommended that Lieber serve three months in prison, a year of probation, and pay a $150,000 fine, along with $33,600 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service, which he has already paid.

Lieber, a former head of Harvard's department of chemistry and chemical biology, received a monthly salary of $50,000 and living expenses of up to $158,000 when he joined China's Wuhan University of Technology in 2011. Prosecutors alleged that some of this money was paid to him in $100 bills in brown paper packaging.

While working for the university, Lieber was given over $1.5m to establish a research lab and was expected to work for the university, applying for patents and publishing articles in its name. Prosecutors claimed that Lieber knowingly hid his involvement in China's "thousand talents plan", which aims to attract foreign research specialists, in order to protect his career.

Although Lieber's involvement in the plan is not a crime, prosecutors argued that he "purposely and repeatedly" lied to authorities about his affiliation with the university in Wuhan and failed to declare income earned in China. Lieber had been awarded $15m in grants from the US National Institute of Health and the US Department of Defence, and recipients are supposed to disclose any conflicts of interest, including financial support from foreign governments or organisations.

The case is one of many that have arisen from the US Department of Justice's China Initiative, which was launched in 2018 during the Trump administration. Some critics argue that the programme unfairly targets Chinese researchers and undermines US competitiveness in research and technology while threatening academic research.