As the U.S.-China tension has escalated in recent times, a grand jury has indicted one of America's foremost chemists, Charles Lieber, who was claimed to be the alleged creator of Coronavirus and sold it to China, on charges of lying to government officials.
Reports claimed that the Harvard professor was arrested in January 2020 for lying and making fraudulent statements to the US federal authorities about funds which he had allegedly received from the Chinese government. However, Lieber maintains his innocence.
The Harvard professor
Earlier this year, in acriminal complaint, the U.S. Justice Department charged the Harvard scholar Lieber with lying to government officials about his work for a Chinese university. After that, the second step, indictment by the grand jury, took months as the COVID-19 forced the proceedings to be delayed in the U.S.
The recent charges said that the well-known professor from Harvard had a relationship with the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT), which has been the center of controversies as many experts claimed that the novel Coronavirus escaped from the lab and some mentioned that the virus is man-made. As per the documents, Harvard University's Department of Chemistry also faced charges.
Authorities alleged that when the Department of Defense investigators interrogated Lieber about his relationship with Wuhan lab, he lied. He also lied to Harvard which caused the world's one of the reputed universities to share bad information about his affiliation with the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Lieber received grant funding from NIH as well as DOD and in both cases, he allegedly denied participating in China's Thousand Talents Plan, while as per the charging document, he was a participant of the program.
Thousand Talents Plan
The Thousand Talents Plan is China's elaborated effort to recruit overseas researchers to send their skills home that later worried the US, which saw the TTP as a mode to encourage economic espionage and theft of intellectual property, one of the major issues behind the trade war between China and the U.S.
As per a DOJ press release, the charges against Lieber said Thousand Talents and other similar programs "reward individuals for stealing proprietary information" and exist to further China's national security. Participating in such programs is not a crime, but it is illegal to lie to federal authorities as a part of revelations about grant funding.
Lieber's trial counsel, Marc Mukasey said that the government "has this wrong." He added that the accused has dedicated his life to science and to his students, not to the money and fame. Mukasey said Lieber is the victim, not the perpetrator.
"But he's also a fighter â he always has been â so we're not taking this lying down. We're fighting back. And when justice is done, Charlie's good name will be restored and the scientific community again will be able to benefit from his intellect and passion," mentioned the trial counsel.
Lieber's case is one of the highest-profile cases in the Justice Department's nationwide China Initiative, a project designed to counter Chinese espionage efforts in the U.S. DOJ officials have said that the Chinese government co-opts these American academics, who fail to disclose Chinese government funding to the U.S. government when applying for grants, to advance its own interests. But as per the critics, officials are turning professors into criminals over clerical errors.