Junk Science? Number 107: Harvard professor arrested amid ‘funding from China’ concerns

The Department of Justice put a Harvard Professor, a Chinese male stealing files containing biological material, and a potential Chinese spy all in the same report; conspiracy theorists were out in force.

Fact Check

On Jan. 28, 2020, Harvard professor Charles Lieber, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, Boston, and the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group was arrested by Federal Agents, and charged with making a materially false statement to the US Department of Defence.

Why was Lieber arrested?

His research group had received funding from the Department of Defence and from the National Institutes of Health. As part of the Funding Agreement, Lieber was obliged to declare any funding he received from any other source that might lead to a conflict of interest.

The US Department of Justice alleges in the filed complaint that Lieber was receiving money for becoming a ‘Strategic Scientist’ at Wuhan University since 2011. The complaint also alleges that Lieber was contracted to the Chinese Government as a participant in China’s ‘Thousand Talents’ program, which seeks to identify overseas talents that could help develop China’s Health and Scientific programs.

The Department of Justice says that Lieber was arrested for lying about his involvement with Wuhan University and participation in the Thousand Talents program.

Two Chinese Nationals were also arrested

Around the same time, two more arrests were made as reported by the DOJ

Yanqing Ye, a 29-year old lieutenant in the Chinese army was charged on the same day as Lieber with one count of visa fraud (lying that she was a student), making false statements, and acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy. It is alleged Ye conducted research and military assessments while studying at Boston University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

On December 10 th 2019 another Chinese National, Zaosong Zheng, was arrested at Logan International airport, Boston and charged with attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China.

On January 21 st Zheng was indicted on making false statements and attempted smuggling. He claims the vials were chemical samples to further his career in China.

Is this connected to Coronavirus?

Lieber is a nano-scientist and has no apparent connections with coronavirus at all. It is purely co-incidental that his affiliation was to a University in Wuhan.

The Department of Justice however fuelled the controversy by announcing the three cases in a single press release, despite stating that the three cases were separate.

According to the charging document Lieber was failing to declare a salary of $50,000 a month plus living expenses and a grant of $1.5 million from the Chinese Government to set up a lab at Wuhan. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Lieber was doing anything untoward. His three-year Thousand Talents contract required him to carry out the typical job functions of academic scientists, such as advising students, helping them publish research in top journals, and organizing speeches and conferences.

The DOJ has stated that it does not for one minute think Lieber was a spy, but that his activities might make him vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese Government in the future. They were also concerned that he ‘Brazenly’ concealed his activities from Harvard.

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