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No, Harvard professor not arrested in US for ‘manufacturing’ coronavirus, selling it to China

“USA just discovered the man who manufactured and sold the Coronavirus to China,” claims a status update on a popular Kenyan Facebook group page, posted on 6 April 2020.

“Dr Charles Lieber, head of the chemistry and biology department at Harvard University, USA. He was just arrested today according to American department sources.”

The Covid-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and has since spread across the world.

But has the US arrested a Harvard University scientist for “manufacturing” the new coronavirus, and selling it to China?

‘Out of context, inaccurate, misleading’

The post includes a video news report by WCVB, a TV station in Boston, Massachusetts – the US state where Harvard is based.

According to the report, Lieber was arrested for lying about having a contract with China’s Wuhan University at a time when he worked on research funded by grants from the US Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health.

But the WCVB news report is from 28 January 2020. That’s more than two months before the 6 April Facebook post, so he wasn’t arrested “today”. And the report makes no mention of the coronavirus, let alone that Lieber’s arrest was because he had “manufactured and sold the coronavirus to China”.

And on 9 April WCVB published an article headlined: “Conspiracy and false claims surrounding Dr Charles Lieber, China and Covid-19 coronavirus”.

“We find one of our stories in the middle of a growing Covid-19 conspiracy online – a story that has been taken out of context and stamped with inaccurate and misleading headlines,” it says.

Arrest for ‘fraudulent statement’

On 28 January, the US Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the arrest of Lieber, at the time the chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. He was charged with “one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement”.

Court documents show that Lieber was arrested with two Chinese nationals. One was charged with “one count of visa fraud, making false statements and acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy” and the other with “attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China”.

The first US case of coronavirus was reported on 20 January 2020. Lieber was arrested on 28 January. Neither the official statement about his arrest nor the court documents link his arrest to the new coronavirus. 

‘Natural animal origin’

The World Health Organization notes that the source of the new coronavirus is “unknown”.

“All available evidence suggests that Sars-CoV-2 has a natural animal origin and is not a constructed virus. Sars-CoV-2 virus most probably has its ecological reservoir in bats,” the organisation says

A research paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature on 17 March 2020 concluded that “all the evidence shows that Sars-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus”. The scientists also said they did not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario was plausible.

A Harvard professor was arrested and charged in the US. But the arrest had nothing to do with Covid-19. And all evidence so far also shows that the new coronavirus was not “manufactured”. – Grace Gichuhi


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