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A US crackdown on perceived efforts by China to unfairly acquire US talent and R&D has stepped up a notch, with charges filed against a senior Harvard academic.

Charles Lieber, the chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, was arrested on Tuesday on one count of “making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement.”

As principal investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard, he has received $15m in government grants to research cutting-edge nanoscience techniques. However, such funding requires disclosure of any major foreign financial conflicts of interest.

It is alleged that, since 2011, Lieber has been a “strategic scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT), and that from 2012-17 he was a “contractual participant” in Beijing’s Thousand Talents Plan, which Washington claims is designed to recruit foreign science experts to steal research secrets.

He’s said to have made millions from these endeavors but allegedly lied about his involvement in both schemes. Lieber could be facing five years behind bars for making false statements to investigators.

Notably, Lieber’s case was published by the Department of Justice (DoJ) alongside that of two alleged Chinese spies who enrolled as students at US universities to steal research material.

Yanqing Ye is in fact a PLA lieutenant who studied at Boston University’s (BU) Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering from October 2017 to April 2019, allegedly stealing info for military research projects and profiling US scientists for her bosses.

Zaosong Zheng conducted cancer-cell research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston from September 2018 to December 2019, but was arrested trying to smuggle 21 vials of biological research out of the country on a flight to China. It’s claimed he wanted to publish the research results under his own name.

Visa fraud carries a charge of 10 years behind bars, as does acting as a foreign agent, and smuggling goods from the US.

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