U.S. government agencies may have been double billed for projects in Wuhan, China, records indicate; probe launched
The U.S. government may have made duplicate payments for projects at labs in Wuhan, China, through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), according to records reviewed by CBS News.
"What I've found so far is evidence that points to double billing, potential theft of government funds. It is concerning, especially since it involves dangerous pathogens and risky research," said Diane Cutler, a former federal investigator with over two decades of experience combating white-collar crime and healthcare fraud.
Cutler found evidence of possible double payments as she investigated U.S. government grants that supported high risk research in China leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was hired by Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, who took her records to USAID and the internal watchdog at USAID, which launched a new probe, details of which have not been previously reported.
Cutler said she has viewed over 50,000 documents, and that the U.S. government may have made duplicate payments for possible medical supplies, equipment, travel and salaries.
Sources told CBS News that tens of millions of dollars could be involved.
Sources familiar with the grant records did not dispute CBS News' reporting.
A spokesperson for USAID declined to comment. A USAID inspector general spokesperson declined to comment "on the existence of a specific open investigation." The press office for NIH did not respond to CBS News' questions.
After our broadcast, Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance wrote to CBS News to say that "allegations [in our report] about double billing and potential theft of government funds are easily refuted." He said "the total amount of the grants" we referred to in our reporting "were a fraction of the sums cited by" our sources, and that the work "did not involve dangerous pathogens and risky research." EcoHealth Alliance is one entity that has conducted U.S.-funded coronavirus research in Wuhan, China.
The USAID inspector general's investigation is ongoing. Sources told CBS News the investigation of possible double-billing could take at least six months to conclude.
Marshall is now calling for a 9/11-style commission.
"I think there's 1.1 million reasons that American taxpayers should care," he said. "You'll have a plane [crash]... we want to find out why the plane crashes. We go to any lengths to do that. And the hope is we don't have another plane crash for the same reason."
While intelligence agencies have not been able to reach a consensus on the origin of the pandemic, the FBI and Energy Department have found an accidental lab leak is plausible. The Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted viral research in the city where the SARS-CoV-2 virus first emerged.
During a recent congressional hearing regarding the origins of COVID-19, the House voted unanimously on a bill ordering the declassification of intelligence about the origins. Robert Redfield, the former director of the CDC, testified that money from the NIH, the State Department, USAID and the Defense Department provided funding for high-risk virus research in Wuhan.
Editor's note: Graphics in the video have been updated and the web version of this report has been updated to include a comment about our report by Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance.
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