DoJ Charges Harvard Prof., Others over China Ties

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that they had brought charges in three unrelated cases regarding academic ties to the People’s Republic of China. While all three cases concerned Boston-area institutions, there is no apparent relationship between the cases.

Among the indictees is Dr. Charles Lieber, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. According to the affidavit of FBI Special Agent Robert Plumb, Lieber made a materially false statement regarding his connection with the Thousand Talents Plan, a Chinese initiative to attract technological talent. While receiving grants from the NIH, Lieber allegedly failed to disclose foreign research support. For years, and unbeknownst to Harvard, Lieber had allegedly received a substantial salary plus living expenses from Wuhan University of Technology (WUT), supplemented by over $1.5 million to create a research lab at WUT.

The Harvard Crimson reported that Lieber studies nanotechnology, and has had an “illustrious” career at the university. He has been placed on paid administrative leave and is banned from campus.

The two other indictees are Chinese nationals studying in the Boston area. Yanqing Ye, allegedly a Lieutenant of the People’s Liberation Army, entered the United States to study physics at Boston University. The indictment showed that she lied on her J-1 visa application regarding her ongoing service with the Chinese military. While in the United States, she allegedly accessed U.S. military websites and sent information to her superiors in the military and lied to American law enforcement officers about the nature of her contacts with the Chinese military. She allegedly used the app WeChat, developed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, to communicate.

Zaosong Zheng was indicted while attempting to leave the United States with vials of “biological material” taken from a Harvard-affiliated hospital where he was conducting research.

While the cases are unrelated, they were revealed in a single press release by the Department of Justice. The indictment of Dr. Lieber stands out due to his prominence in faculty and his lack of any prior connection to the People’s Republic of China. According to the release, ” These cases are part of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, which reflects the strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats and reinforces the President’s overall national security strategy.”