June 27, 2022

Volume XII, Number 178

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June 24, 2022

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Conviction of Harvard Researcher for Chinese Ties Serves as Caution to Universities

Charles Lieber, former chair of the chemistry and chemical biology department at Harvard University, was convicted on December 21st by a jury on two counts of making false statements to federal authorities, two counts of making a false income tax return, and two counts of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts with the IRS due to his relationships with China’s Thousand Talents Program (TTP) and the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT). He received cash and living expenses from TTP and more than $1.5 million to establish a WUT research lab. Lieber opened an account at a Chinese bank into which WUT made salary deposits, but he did not report the existence of the account as required by U.S. law.

In a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts following the verdict, Lieber was said to have assumed the role of “Strategic Scientist” for WUT, a position that he did not disclose, and served as a TTP contractor from at least 2012 through 2015. As the Department of Justice described TTP, “China’s Thousand Talents Plan is one of the most prominent Chinese talent recruitment plans designed to attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity, and national security.”

Lieber will face maximum jail terms of up to three to five years for each of the counts for which he was convicted, as well as fines of up to $250,000 for each count. Lieber’s sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Lieber’s activities serve as just the most recent example of unlawful foreign involvement which negatively impacts U.S. higher education institutions and their personnel, research scientists, and affiliated research and fund-raising organizations. While Lieber’s actions appear to have been clearly intentional, government authorities have also voiced concern regarding the potential for inadvertent disclosures of valuable intellectual property to foreign agents by institutional researchers.

Higher education institutions will need to be prepared for enhanced federal scrutiny of their international relationships if the US Innovation and Competition Act (Senate) and the EAGLE Act (House) are adopted by Congress as appears possible next year. As a footnote, Reuters and The Guardian reported in November that China’s embassy in Washington, D.C. sent letters to executives urging them to oppose the Acts.

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 363
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Thomas Vorbach, Steptoe Johnson Law Firm, Tax Law Attorney
Member

Tom Vorbach has nearly 40 years of practice experience in the areas of taxation, commercial and international transactions, and real estate, as well as estate planning, estate and trust administration, non-profit organizations, and export and foreign investor matters. Mr. Vorbach is the current leader of the firm's Technology and Entrepreneurial Development Team and was previously the group leader of the Taxation Practice Group.

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Mark Hanshaw Education Attorney Steptoe Johnson Louisville
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Clients appreciate when their attorney is inspired and energetic about their area of practice and Mark Hanshaw embodies that. Mark, a seasoned educator, lawyer, and academic administrator, has been entrenched in the vibrant higher education environment for many years and feels privileged to work in an industry that is his calling. Transitioning from the classroom and boardroom into the role of trusted legal advisor, Mark advises higher education administrators and in-house counsel on regulatory compliance,  policy and procedure development, and growth strategies. Mark is...

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Susan Deniker, labor and employment law, litigation, and education law attorney, Steptoe Johnson Law Firm
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Susan Deniker focuses her practice in the areas of labor and employment law, litigation, and education law. Ms. Deniker's practice includes state and federal court cases, as well as cases before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Ms. Deniker is leader of the firm's Labor and Employment Practice Group.

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  • Defended a client in a class action litigation involving claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act
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