Researcher tried to export pathogen to China, RCMP allege
Dr. Klaus Nielsen and Wei Ling Yu were investigated by RCMP
CBC News Posted: Apr 03, 2013 1:35 PM ET Last Updated: Apr 03, 2013 5:18 PM ET
Two former Canadian Food Inspection Agency researchers have been charged with breach of trust after an RCMP investigation into their alleged attempts to commercialize CFIA property.
The agency first contacted the RCMP in March 2011, beginning an investigation — dubbed Project Sentimental — into Dr. Klaus Nielsen, 67, of Richmond, Ont., and Wei Ling Yu, 48, of Ottawa.
More than a year later, in October 2012, RCMP and Ottawa police intercepted Nielsen as he was making his way to the Ottawa airport, according to an RCMP media release issued Wednesday, which made the case public for the first time.
An Ottawa fire department team that deals with hazardous materials was also dispatched.
Nielsen was on his way to China at the time, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Richard Rollings said.
"We believe Ms. Yu is currently in China," Rollings added. A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued for Yu.
While the investigation did not begin until 2011, the breach of trust charge dates back to Sept. 9, 2005, according to Rollings.
17 vials of pathogen found in search
Seventeen vials of pathogen — live brucella bacteria that can infect livestock and humans — were found while searching Nielsen, RCMP allege.
He was arrested for breach of trust by a public officer and the unsafe transportation of a human pathogen. He faces several charges under the Export and Import Permits Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act.
Nielsen, who was charged last week, appeared in court Wednesday morning. He is next scheduled to appear in court on April 17.
Yu, Nielsen co-authored journal paper in 2010
In 2003, Nielsen was one of six CFIA researchers awarded the Technology Transfer Award for developing a 15-second test for detecting brucellosis in cattle.
The U.S. company Diachemix manufactured and licensed the test.
"In Canada, the populations of Canadian cattle and farmed bison have been officially brucellosis-free since 1984," said a posting about the award on the CFIA's website. "Nonetheless, a reservoir of disease in Canadian wildlife means that Canada must regularly survey its cattle for brucellosis. And while the disease is under control here, it takes a major toll on people and animals in other parts of the world.
"Known as 'undulant fever' in humans, brucellosis lasts for months, inducing an intermittent fever and debilitating, flu-like symptoms. In developing countries, where dairy products from diseased cattle, sheep and goats are consumed, thousands of cases of human brucellosis still occur."
In 2010, the Croatian Medical Journal published a paper, written by Yu and Nielsen, about their efforts to detect brucella bacteria.
The RCMP's investigation into Nielsen and Yu also involved the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
"This complex investigation drew on resources from a variety of federal departments, law enforcement agencies and first responders," the RCMP media release said.
"The RCMP, in collaboration with their partners, were able to quickly and efficiently mobilize and respond to this threat which helped minimize the public’s risk of exposure to these contagious substances."
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement that "the CFIA continues to make security a priority and has fully co-operated and assisted the RCMP in its investigation."
"As this matter is before the courts, we cannot comment further," he said.