Professor Charged With Hiding Ties With Chinese Government Sues Harvard For Not Covering Legal Fees

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A Harvard professor charged with hiding his ties with the Chinese government and the fact that he accepted millions in funding from the Chinese sued the university Friday over its refusal to pay his legal defense fees in the case, the Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit says that Harvard denied former chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Charles Lieber’s request to advance his defense costs, hasn’t agreed to reimburse them and is demanding he first prove his innocence to the school before his trial to get financial help, according to the AP.

Lieber was arrested in January over his involvement with the Chinese government, including recruiting skilled individuals to the Thousand Talent Program. In some cases, participation in the program has resulted in violations of U.S. law, such as espionage, theft of trade secrets and grant fraud at the benefit of the Chinese government.

Mark Mukasey, Lieber’s attorney, has promised to restore his client’s name.

“Employees who find themselves accused of wrongdoing rely on their employers’ promises to pay their defense costs,” the complaint said.

“Instead of following suit, and supporting their long-standing, well-respected employee, Harvard has placed Professor Lieber on administrative leave, publicly denounced him, improperly characterized the charges against him, and permanently and falsely associated him with academic espionage, forever harming his reputation,” it said.

The school’s rejection of Lieber’s legal fees will leave Lieber, who has blood cancer, and his family “impoverished” according to the lawsuit, which says Harvard’s actions are also illegal.

“It is disturbing that Harvard acted solely its in own self-interest by turning its back on a dedicated faculty member who suffers from a terminal illness and who is presumed innocent. More importantly, it is illegal,” the lawsuit said.

Lieber is accused of working for Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China beginning in 2011, and accepting $50,000 per month, living expenses of up to roughly $158,0000, and $1.5 million in awards to establish a research lab at the Chinese university, according to the Justice Department. The payments were part of the terms of Lieber’s three-year Thousand Talents Program contract. Lieber allegedly did not inform Harvard of his involvement with the foreign entities, and caused Harvard to falsely tell the National Institutes of Health that he had no connection with WUT. 

Lieber has been convicted by a grand jury on two counts of making false statements to authorities, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison if convicted. 

Lieber is one of more than a dozen researchers, professors and students at American universities who have been arrested in the last year on charges related to lying about their ties with the Chinese government, often while accepting US-taxpayer-funded grants. (RELATED: More Than A Dozen Researchers And Professors At US Universities Have Been Arrested For Ties To The Chinese Government)

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