Who is Peter Daszak, the nonprofit exec who sent taxpayer money to Wuhan lab?
The nonprofit exec whose organization sent nearly $600,000 in US taxpayer money to a Chinese lab that may have been the source of COVID-19 masterminded an effort near the start of the pandemic to squelch the notion that the coronavirus was man-made, a new report reveals.
Peter Daszak, president of the New York City-based EcoHealth Alliance, secretly organized a statement issued by the influential British medical journal The Lancet in February 2020, according to Vanity Fair.
A total of 27 scientists — including Daszak, 55, who trained as a zoologist — signed the statement, which expressed “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China.”
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the statement affirmed.
“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.”
During Daszak’s efforts to arrange the Lancet statement, he reportedly emailed two scientists, including Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina, who’d worked with the lead coronavirus researcher at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, located at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
Daszak told the scientists that they “should not sign this statement, so it has some distance from us and therefore doesn’t work in a counterproductive way,” Vanity Fair said, citing emails obtained by the group US Right to Know.
“We’ll then put it out in a way that doesn’t link it back to our collaboration so we maximize an independent voice,” Daszak reportedly added.
Baric didn’t sign the Lancet statement, but last month was among 18 international scientists who signed a statement in Science Magazine calling for a “transparent, objective” investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
And while the Lancet statement included a claim that its signatories had “no competing interests,” at least six others had either worked at or been funded by EcoHealth Alliance, according to Vanity Fair.
Daszak received more than $410,000 in annual compensation from EcoHealth and “related organizations” during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2019, according to an IRS filing posted online by the ProPublica news organization.
The nonprofit, which says it’s “dedicated to protecting wildlife and public health from the emergency of disease,” has received as much as $15 million a year in grant money from various federal agencies, Vanity Fair said.
EcoHealth has used those grants to fund controversial “gain-of-function” research — which can increase the infectiousness and virulence of viruses — at facilities that include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to Vanity Fair.
The WIV received about $600,0000 from a five-year, $3 million-plus grant that Vanity Fair said EcoHealth got from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
According to Fauci’s official emails, which were posted online this week by BuzzFeed, Daszak wrote him on April 18, 2020, to express gratitude for Fauci’s public statements backing the theory that the coronavirus evolved naturally.
“I just wanted to say a personal thank you on behalf of our staff and collaborators, for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Daszak wrote.
“From my perspective, your comments are brave, and coming from your trusted voice, will help dispel the myths being spun around the virus’s origins.”
Fauci responded the next day, saying, “Many thanks for your kind note.”
During a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting last week, Fauci denied that the government money the WIV got from EcoHealth was spent on gain-of-function research, saying, “That categorically was not done.”
But National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins acknowledged earlier in the meeting that “we are, of course, not aware of other sources of funds or other activities they might have undertaken outside of what our approved grant allowed.”
WIV’s lead coronavirus researcher, Shi Zhengli — who’s been dubbed “Bat Woman” for her work with the flying mammals — has also acknowledged receiving more than $1.2 million in US grant money, some of which was routed through EcoHealth, according to Vanity Fair.
In January, the US State Department released a fact sheet that revealed WIV researchers had collaborated on secret Chinese military projects since at least 2017, which Shi has emphatically denied.
China has also called the State Department fact sheet — which was adopted by President Biden’s administration — “full of fallacies” and the “last madness” of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom it called “Mr. Lies.”
In January, Daszak was the only American representative to take part in a World Health Organization visit to Wuhan that led to a finding that it’s “extremely unlikely” the coronavirus leaked from a Chinese lab.
During a March 10 event in London, Daszak admitted that the group didn’t ask to inspect the WIV’s database of 22,000 virus samples and sequences, a decision he defended by saying that “a lot of this work has been conducted with EcoHealth Alliance,” Vanity Fair said.
Daszak also said Shi told the group that the WIV removed the database from the internet due to hacking attempts during the pandemic — but it was actually taken offline on Sept. 12, 2019, three months before the official start of the outbreak, according to Vanity Fair.
In response to detailed questions from Vanity Fair, an EcoHealth spokesperson speaking for both the organization and Daszak said, “We have no comment,” according to the magazine.