Top Republicans in Congress are asking the Department of Justice to investigate a global nonprofit that funneled U.S. taxpayer money to Chinese scientists but failed to abide by a grant agreement in doing so.
EcoHealth Alliance, which received millions of dollars from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 2014 to 2019, broke the agreement by not alerting the NIH that the experiments led to a sharp increase in the virulence of a modified coronavirus, an agency official told members of Congress last week.
“EcoHealth failed to report this finding right away, as was required by the terms of the grant,” Lawrence Tabak, the NIH’s principal deputy director, informed lawmakers in letters.
The revelation “raises the prospect about whether EcoHealth violated 18 U.S.C. § 1031 and committed a major fraud against the United States,” Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wrote (pdf) on Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The law in question bars people from trying or executing schemes with the intent to defraud the United States or to obtain money or property, including grants, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.
EcoHealth, based in New York, also did not file a report on the experiments until Aug. 3, nearly two years after it was required to do so.
That may have been intentional to ensure it received additional grant money, the lawmakers say. EcoHealth received over $21 million in grant funds between Sept. 30, 2019, and Aug. 3 of this year.
“The company had a clear financial incentive to violate the terms of its grant by failing to stop its experiments. In addition, EcoHealth’s failure to provide the required reporting to NIH for nearly two years—despite a requirement in the grant to do so annually—suggests that EcoHealth knowingly withheld information from NIH in an effort to misrepresent the project’s status,” they wrote.
Comer is the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee. Jordan is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
The Department of Justice did not return an inquiry.
EcoHealth has not responded to requests for comment.
The nonprofit was ordered by the NIH to produce missing documents by Oct. 25. The NIH has not responded to multiple queries concerning whether the deadline was met and, if it was not, what the next step will be.
The NIH suspended funding for an EcoHealth grant last year but one of the institutes, headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, later awarded it new funding for other research.
In a statement last year after the suspension, an EcoHealth spokesperson said the agency was “inexplicably suspend[ing] a grant studying the very family of viruses responsible for COVID-19, and which has provided the best evidence yet on its origins.”
The origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, remain unknown, in part because Chinese Communist Party officials have blocked most access to laboratories and sites in China.
Peter Daszak, EcoHealth’s president, was part of the World Health Organization-compiled team that was allowed to enter China earlier this year to investigate the origins but the team and its report received widespread criticism for its close ties to China and its inability to secure crucial information.