The Department of Health and Human Services’ watchdog had briefly probed EcoHealth Alliance, a New York non-profit that has collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, over alleged “major fraud against the United States,” newly released emails show.
The four-month-long probe, which opened in September 2020, centered around an allegation that “the COVID 19 virus was generated in the China [sic] with the assistance of an NIH [National Institutes of Health] Grant.”
The Office of Investigations of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revealed the investigation in an email with the subject line “Grant Information Review [Redacted]” and dated Dec. 3, 2020, according to redacted copies of the documents obtained by the U.S. Right to Know, a public health advocacy group.
A tip from an outside source had prompted the office to open the case, a special agent explained in an attached memorandum to Ashley Sanders, an investigative officer at the NIH. Another correspondence issued in January 2021 confirmed that EcoHealth Alliance, which for years worked with a high-level Wuhan lab to conduct risky bat coronavirus research, was one of the targets. The name of the other party was redacted.
Such allegations, if true, would constitute a violation of the U.S. federal law, Title 18 of U.S. Code §1031, “major fraud against the United States,” according to the memorandum. Under this law, anyone who tried “to obtain money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises” in grant, contract, subcontract, or other forms of federal assistance valuing $1 million or more could receive a $1 million fine or up to 10 years in prison, or both.
The office referred the case to its special investigative branch on Sept. 9, 2020, and agents reviewed the allegation and met with NIH representatives on the same day, the memorandum said. Details of the meeting and a description of the subsequent step taken by the agents on Sept. 29 were redacted.
By Eva Fu