HHS moves to debar EcoHealth Alliance president over failure to comply with grant procedures

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) commenced formal debarment proceedings against Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance – a firm that accused of using taxpayer funds to conduct gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The move took place on Tuesday evening, according to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, and came one week after HHS implemented an immediate, government-wide suspension on all funds allocated to EcoHealth Alliance.

In a Tuesday letter to Daszak, a suspension and debarment official for HHS wrote, “This is to provide notification that, on behalf of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, I have suspended you and proposed you for debarment, related to your respective roles as the President of EcoHealth Alliance, Inc. and as Program Director/Principal Investigator on the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease… from participating in United States Federal Government procurement and nonprocurement programs.”

In an action referral memorandum, which cited several examples of EcoHealth’s failure to comply with certain grant procedures, the same official wrote, “I find that the information in the record constitutes adequate evidence to demonstrate that the immediate suspension of Dr. Peter Daszak is necessary to protect the public interest provided his role as the President of EHA …”

COVID ORIGINS: HHS SUSPENDS ECOHEALTH ALLIANCE GRANTS AFTER FINDING TAXPAYER FUNDS USED IN RISKY RESEARCH

EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak speaks during a House Select Subcommittee hearing on the coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill on May 1, 2024. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

The memorandum also pointed to EHA’s work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) as a reason for the proposal of debarment proceedings against Daszak.

A review of EcoHealth’s work, submitted two years late on Aug. 3, 2021, showed that work at the Wuhan Institute “had possibly yielded a greater” increase in viral activity, “in violation of the terms of the grant,” the memorandum said.

Both EcoHealth and the Wuhan Institute were given “several opportunities to disprove this finding” by the National Institutes of Health, but “failed to do so,” the memorandum added. Because of the failure to adequately respond, the National Institutes of Health’s conclusion that the Wuhan Institute research “likely violated protocols regarding biosafety is undisputed,” the document stated.

The memorandum noted that EHA’s role, as the prime grantee administrator, was to “provide adequate oversight of the activities of its subawardees” and that Daszak “did not adequately monitor” the Wuhan Institute’s compliance with the grant.

Prior to the HHS effort to debar Daszak, congressional lawmakers said EcoHealth – a U.S.-based nonprofit with a stated mission of preventing pandemics – used taxpayer dollars “to fund dangerous gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology” in China.

HOUSE COVID COMMITTEE CALLING FOR CRIMINAL PROBE INTO GAIN-OF-FUNCTION VIRUS RESEARCH IN WUHAN

Peter Daszak, right, and other members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, leave the Hubei Center for animal disease control and prevention in Wuhan on Feb. 2, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

“EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak’s personal debarment will ensure he never again receives a single cent from U.S. taxpayers nor has the opportunity to start a new, untrustworthy organization,” Committee Chair Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “This step comes just two weeks after the Select Subcommittee released substantial evidence of Dr. Daszak’s contempt for the American people, his flagrant disregard for the risks associated with gain-of-function research, and his willful violation of the terms of his NIH grant. Last night, based partially on that evidence, HHS doubled down on its recent suspension of funds to EcoHealth Alliance, Inc. by commencing debarment proceedings against the head of the organization.”

Wenstrup added, “Dr. Daszak’s impending debarment does not shield him from accountability to the American people. It appears that Dr. Daszak may have lied under oath about his relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and his compliance with NIH grant procedures. The Select Subcommittee intends to hold Dr. Daszak accountable for any dishonesty and reminds him that this debarment decision does not preclude him from producing all outstanding documents and answering all the questions from this Congressional body.”

In announcing the suspension of allocated funds to EcoHealth last week, HHS noted the nonprofit willfully violated the terms of a multimillion-dollar NIH grant.

Following the commencement of debarment proceedings, an EcoHealth Alliance spokesperson told Fox News the U.S.-based nonprofit “did not support ‘gain-of-function’ research at WIV” and that any “assertions to the contrary are based either on misinterpretation, or willful misrepresentation of the actual research conducted.”

“Because the SARS-related research conducted by EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology dealt with bat coronaviruses that had never been shown to infect people, let alone cause significant morbidity and/or mortality in humans, by definition it was not gain-of-function research,” the spokesperson added. “The fact is that the bat coronavirus research conducted by EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology could not have started the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Fox News Digital previously reported that EcoHealth Alliance received millions of dollars in grants from the NIH. U.S. taxpayer funds flowed to Chinese entities conducting coronavirus research through EcoHealth Alliance.

Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology as members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of COVID-19 visit on Feb. 3, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

That money – at least $600,000 – was redirected to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and went toward research to assess the transmission of bat coronaviruses to humans. The research included conducting RNA extractions and DNA sequencing on bat samples as well as biological experiments on pathogen spillover from bats to humans.

EcoHealth Alliance also received more than $200,000 that was redirected to Wuhan University and went toward disease surveillance research activities, including collection of biological samples from people in China with high levels of exposure to bats for Wuhan Institute of Virology to conduct further screening.

Former U.S. government officials, like former NIH Director Francis Collins, said the U.S. taxpayer money was not approved to conduct gain-of-function research, which involves modifying a virus to make it more infectious among humans.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.

Kyle Morris covers politics for Fox News. Story tips can be sent via email and on X: @RealKyleMorris.

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