Embattled Chemistry Professor Charles Lieber Sues Harvard, Alleging University Required to Recoup Legal Costs


University Professor Charles M. Lieber filed a complaint against Harvard in Middlesex County Superior Court Friday morning, alleging that the University broke its contract by refusing to indemnify him for his criminal defense.

In January, Lieber was arrested on federal charges of making fraudulent statements to U.S. government officials who were investigating his funding sources. Federal officials alleged he misrepresented his affiliation with the Thousand Talents Program and failed to disclose funding from the Chinese government.

A federal grand jury indicted Lieber in June for making false statements; he pled not guilty. He was later charged in a superseding indictment with tax offenses related to the income he allegedly received from Chinese sources.

The lawsuit cites Harvard’s indemnification policy, which states, according to the complaint, that the “University shall indemnify a Qualified Person acting in a Covered Role … provided that no indemnification shall be provided under this policy with respect to any matter, act or omission determined to be outside of the scope of a Covered Role.”


The complaint states that Lieber submitted a request to the University on March 31, 2020, requesting indemnification and advancement of legal fees and expenses. Lieber wrote that he was a “Qualified Person” acting in a “Covered Role” at all times relevant to the federal charges filed against him.

However, University Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp denied Lieber’s request via letters written in May and July, referring to exclusions in the indemnification policy, according to Lieber’s suit. Among others, Lapp referred to a clause excluding actions in which “the Qualified Person is adjudicated or determined not to have acted in good faith.”

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Harvard’s cooperation with the United States Attorney’s Office, through providing documents and making witnesses available, is illegal.

The lawsuit requests indemnification and defense cost advancement from the University.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the suit.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at