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BOSTON — Defense attorneys representing Harvard professor Charles M. Lieber, who is facing trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators about his ties to China, sparred with prosecutors on Thursday over the evidentiary relevance of documents obtained during raids of the prominent chemist’s home and office.
Lieber faces six felony charges that include making materially false statements to federal investigators and failing to report his income and foreign bank accounts to government agencies.
On Thursday, the third day of the trial, prosecutors questioned FBI Special Agent Kara D. Spice, who participated in the arrest and interview of Lieber in January 2020.
Through Spice’s testimony, prosecutors introduced a trove of documents recovered in FBI raids on Lieber's Harvard office and Lexington, Mass., home. The evidence included emails between Lieber and a former student, Liqiang Mai, who oversaw an unauthorized joint Harvard-Wuhan University of Technology laboratory where Lieber worked as the lab director, according to the government’s evidence.
In emails, Mai referred to Lieber as a “high level foreign expert” with the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese government initiative to recruit foreign scientists. Prosecutors allege that Lieber made false statements to federal officials regarding his involvement with the TTP. Lieber’s defense team maintains that he was cooperative with investigators and made no attempt to mislead them.
In a 2012 email, Mai wrote that Lieber had been approved by the Chinese government as a “strategic foreign expert” in the TTP, years before his interviews with authorities. Mai also emailed Lieber with contracts for his work with WUT as a “strategic scientist.”
The defense objected to many of the emails being admitted into evidence, saying that Lieber never acknowledged or responded to them.
“This is a Publishers Clearing House email,” Lieber’s lead defense attorney, Marc L. Mukasey, said of one of the emails presented by prosecutors. “If somebody sends me an email saying I'm part of something or I’ve won something, it doesn't mean I am.”
Jurors also heard continued testimony from Renée R. Donlon, a former administrative coordinator for Lieber’s research group who began testifying on Wednesday.
Donlon said she was responsible for coordinating logistical details and assembling travel itineraries for the trips Lieber took to Wuhan, China, between 2012 and 2014. In her testimony, she identified Lieber’s Chinese bank card, supporting the government’s charge that he had a foreign bank account, which prosecutors allege he failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service.
Defense attorney Stephanie Guaba questioned Donlon about trips Lieber took to Canada and Israel, but Donlon was unable to confirm or deny any details about the trips without travel summaries present.
Before the trial let out at 1 p.m. Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Casey said he now expects the government’s case to conclude Monday, rather than Friday.
“I think we're a little behind, but not too far behind,” Casey said.
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