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The head of Harvard University’s chemistry department was charged on Tuesday with attempting to conceal his involvement in a Chinese government program to bring scientists to China, an escalation of a crackdown by U.S. authorities on what they perceive as a campaign to steal ideas born in American universities and medical centers.

In a criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday, Charles Lieber — a leading nanoelectronics researcher and the chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology — is accused of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Defense about his role in China’s Thousand Talents program, a recruitment initiative that offers payments and perks to scientists trained overseas to convince them to come to China. Lieber was arrested on Tuesday, according to a court filing.


Unlike some of the other scientists who’ve faced accusations regarding their relationships with the Chinese talent recruitment program, Lieber is believed not to be Chinese or have Chinese ancestry. The U.S. probe has led to dozens of investigations by U.S. institutions, as well as the dismissals and resignations of scientists and executives at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. But Lieber’s case is perhaps the highest profile yet, and he could face the harshest consequences to date.

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