A LAB filled with some of the world’s deadliest viruses was secretly run by a Chinese fugitive right under the noses of officials in the US for years.
Investigators found a shoddy warehouse in Reedley, California stuffed with nearly 1,000 disease-riddled mice and rows of fridges packed with hundreds of samples of viruses, chemicals and blood.
The lab in Reedley was filled with nearly 1,000 disease-riddled mice[/caption]
Officials found vials of SARS-Cov-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19[/caption]
There were nearly 20 potentially infectious agents – which had many ‘serious or lethal human diseases’[/caption]
Fridges stuffed with hundreds of samples of viruses, chemicals and blood[/caption]
Jia Bei Zhu ran the clandestine lab in Reedley, California for years[/caption]
The vast warehouse was stuffed with cages of mice and hidden vials, including some labelled “HIV”, a freezer marked “Ebola“, along with manufacturing devices and lab equipment.
Vials were labelled in a mix of English, Mandarin and undecipherable codes – and hundreds of the dead or dying mice had been genetically engineered for experiments.
Some of the mice were modified to catch and carry the Covid virus.
Horrifying photos revealed in a report from the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party show grim mice carcasses and piles of test tubes filled with blood.
Investigators also found a small plastic box containing “positive” Covid samples from November 2020 – with the chilling words “handle with care” scrawled in black marker pen.
In an alarming discovery, officials found that the lab was owned and run by wanted Chinese national Jia Bei Zhu – who has alleged ties with the Community Party.
Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup, chairman of the committee investigating the Covid pandemic, said the lab could have sparked a “disastrous” disease outbreak.
“It is highly concerning that an unlicensed lab operated by a Chinese company on American soil was apparently conducting dangerous research involving Covid-19 and other viruses,” he said.
“Authorities found hundreds of mice that had been genetically modified to catch and carry Covid-19 virus.
“This is troubling, as we already know these lab-related incidents, if not contained, can cause predictable but disastrous consequences.”
And Justin Goodman, senior vice president of White Coat Waste, told The Sun it was shocking that “a hostile nation got its hands on US government money for a dangerous animal lab experimenting with deadly viruses that can cause a pandemic”.
Biosafety expert Dr Richard Ebright said the incident “highlights the shocking inadequacy of current US oversight of biosafety, biosecurity, and biorisk management”.
City enforcement officer Jesalyn Harper was the first to discover the sinister lab run by Zhu in December 2022 after spotting a garden hose poking out of an empty warehouse.
Until she spotted the green hose, the US government had no idea the dangerous lab was operating on American soil – receiving funding from both US taxpayers and more than $1million in mystery donors from China.
The discovery led to a lengthy nine-month investigation by officials in Reedley – and the shocking findings have now been revealed in a 42-page report from the Select Committee.
When Harper first knocked on the door in 2022 and went inside to investigate the garden hose violation, she found three women who identified themselves as Chinese nationals.
This investigation raises troubling questions about the state of our nation’s biosecurity
House Committee on Chinese Communist Party
After walking inside the lab, she described walking down “hallways of freezers and laboratory equipment” before finding a storage room with a “foul” smell.
Inside, she found some 1,000 lab mice in “crowded conditions” that were “genetically modified and bred to simulate the human immune system for the purpose of laboratory experimentation”.
A woman in control of the mice told officials they were “genetically engineered to catch and carry the Covid virus”.
An expert who was called in to inspect the mice found “evidence of cannibalism, including the devouring of newborn mice, severe fight wounds, and indications of high stress”.
One of the workers who looked after the mice told Harper that he and his children had become sick after tending to the animals – and claimed he was told to simply put any dead mice in the bin.
The lab also had storage containers labelled with biohazard signs and medical cabinets stuffed with highly flammable, explosive, and corrosive chemicals.
In total, officials found nearly 20 potentially infectious agents – which had many “serious or lethal human diseases”.
These included SARS-CoV-2, Chlamydia, HIV, E. coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Hepatitis B and C, Dengue virus, the Rubella virus and Malaria.
A woman in control of the mice said they were ‘genetically engineered to catch and carry the Covid virus’[/caption]
The warehouse was filled with medical equipment[/caption]
Tonnes of biological waste was destroyed from the lab[/caption]
Officials found labels on vials in English, Mandarin and undecipherable codes[/caption]
Many of the indecipherable containers appeared to contain blood, or a blood product, such as serum, or other bodily fluids, the report said.
Some of the vials were labelled in code – and officials were never able to translate the code.
It means the nature of the viruses will never be known.
And investigators found that Zhu was wanted in Canada for stealing US intellectual property on dairy-cattle breeding.
The lab had been run by Universal Meditech Inc – a company with strong ties to China.
In October, Zhu was finally arrested at gunpoint outside the lab for selling Chinese Covid tests that had been rebranded as American in his lab – something he denies.
The 62-year-old has also been charged with lying to federal officials about his true identity and business dealings.
The report said: “Our investigation revealed a complex connection between the Reedley Biolab’s owner and founder, Jiabei ‘Jesse’ Zhu, and the government of the People’s Republic of China.
“Zhu previously stole millions of dollars of American intellectual property to directly benefit PRC-affiliated and controlled companies.”
According to investigators, Zhu appears to have entered America illegally and operated under a false name, setting up a new network of biotech companies.
He acquired thousands of vials of biological substances, pathogens, medical devices, and equipment at the clandestine lab in Reedley, it is alleged.
According to the House reports, Zhu bought cheap or counterfeit Covid, pregnancy and ovulation test kits from the PRC and “resold them to Americans at a steep mark-up”.
How did he obtain apparent samples of Ebola virus, one of the deadliest pathogens known to man?
House Committee on Chinese Communist Party
Meanwhile, Zhu was also “receiving large, unexplained transfers from PRC bank accounts – more than $1million over a couple of years”.
The report claims the FBI and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention initially refused to investigate.
While the CDC did later get involved after pressure from politicians, it allegedly refused to test samples or examine the vials which were not labelled – even after city officials decided to pay for the testing.
City official were then instructed to destroy “approximately 103.73 tonnes of general waste, including complex laboratory equipment, and 448 gallons of medical and biological waste”.
“No one will ever know how many answers were destroyed per the CDC’s instructions,” the report said.
“Due to the intricacies of Zhu’s PRC-based scheme and CDC’s failure to test thousands of ‘potentially infectious agents’ we lack the ability to fully answer essential questions.
“Why would Zhu keep dangerous pathogens for years as a wanted man despite the extreme cost and risk?
“How did he obtain apparent samples of Ebola virus, one of the deadliest pathogens known to man?
“This investigation raises troubling questions about the state of our nation’s biosecurity. It shows that our nation is fundamentally vulnerable to pathogenic risk.”
It added that the investigation showed “there are no safeguards, no tripwires, no monitoring for the acquisition of deadly pathogens and materials that could clearly be used for extraordinarily dangerous bioweapon research here on American soil”.
Justin Goodman, from White Coat Waste, told The Sun: “Government oversight of animal labs is so abysmal that what happened in Reedley isn’t a complete surprise.
“As we’ve documented, hundreds of animal labs in the US and abroad – even those receiving taxpayer dollars – are never inspected by federal authorities and funding agencies admit they don’t keep track of where our money is going.
“There’s so little transparency and accountability about taxpayer-funded animal testing that it’s conceivable a fugitive from a hostile nation somehow got his hands on US government money for a dangerous animal lab experimenting with deadly viruses that can cause a pandemic.”
Dr Ebright, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, said not enough is known about the number of similar labs operating in the US.
Hundreds of animal labs in the US and abroad – even those receiving taxpayer dollars – are never inspected by federal authorities
“There currently are no US regulations or restrictions with force of law on possession, handling, or transfer of most viruses, including even pandemic viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and potential pandemic viruses such as MERS coronavirus and monkeypox virus,” he told The Sun.
“And no US federal or state entity monitors the locations or operations of pathogen labs of even knows the number of pathogen labs.
“In the US, one can set up a lab working on, for example, SARS-CoV-2, MERS coronavirus, or monkeypox virus without informing, much less registering with, any federal or state agency.
“And one can use any biocontainment level – including none at all – and any PPE and security – including none at all – one chooses.”
“Given the potential for such laboratories to accidentally unleash agents that can endanger the public, we need regulation to ensure biosafety is maintained at all times in laboratories around the world studying infectious pathogens.”
The criminal complaint shows Zhu’s Canadian tech company was sued and ordered to pay over $300million in 2016.
If convicted, Zhu could face three years in prison for misbranding medical devices and five more years for making false statements.
And federal attorneys could add more charges.
Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said Zhu’s arrest was a long time coming.
“This man created multiple companies over the course of almost the last decade, continuing to get away with what he was doing, fraud, deceit, misdirection,” she said.
In response to the House report, the CDC said it “strongly disputes” criticism of the agency over the handling of the investigation of the lab.