Owner of California biolab has close ties to Chinese government, military: House Report

The House Select Committee on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced on Wednesday that the owner of an illegal California biolab allegedly has close ties to the Chinese government.

According to a report shared by the House Select Committee on the PRC, Jia Bei Zhu, 62, is a wanted fugitive from Canada and a PRC citizen.

Authorities said that Zhu had previously stolen millions of dollars of intellectual property from American companies and was part of an ongoing transnational criminal enterprise with ties to the PRC.

Zhu, who went by a number of aliases, was arrested in October for “manufacturing and distributing misbranded medical devices in violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and for making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

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Zhu’s Universal Meditech Inc. lab in Reedley, California first raised eyebrows in December 2022 when Code Enforcement Officer Jesalyn Harper noticed a green garden hose sticking out of a hole at the facility and notified Zhu of the code violation.

Further inspection found that the dingy warehouse contained expensive laboratory equipment, manufacturing devices, and what appeared to be medical-grade freezers. 

Harper observed several workers in lab coats who told her that they were PRC nationals.

As she continued further in the vast warehouse, she noticed that some of the freezers and containment units had glass doors. 

Inside, she saw thousands of vials of biological substances. Many were unlabeled. Others were labeled in Mandarin or in code. 

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The city also found approximately 1,000 transgenic mice. Mice used for research of human disease, which biolab workers told them were, “genetically engineered to catch and carry the COVID-19 virus.”

The mysterious discoveries spurred a nine-month effort by the city of Reedley to address the public health risk found in the warehouse. 

The House Select Committee on the PRC said that local law enforcement attempted to contact the FBI and the CDC, but both federal agencies declined to investigate.

Ultimately, local officials contacted their local Member of Congress, Representative Jim Costa, and asked him for help obtaining federal assistance.

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With Rep. Costa’s assistance, the CDC came to inspect the Reedley Biolab in May 2023.

Based solely on reading the labels, the CDC reported that the facility contained “at least 20 potentially infectious agents,” including HIV, Tuberculosis, and the deadliest known form of Malaria.

The CDC also found a host of “potentially infectious agents” and separated them into two subgroups: “risk group 2 and risk group 3.”

The CDC defined “risk group 2” as a “human disease which is rarely serious and for which preventive or therapeutic interventions are often available, [and] [t]hese agents represent a moderate risk to an individual but a low risk to the community.”

“Risk group 3” is defined as pathogens “associated with serious or lethal human disease for which preventive or therapeutic interventions may be available. These agents represent a high risk to an individual but a low risk to the community.”

Despite the admitted risks, the CDC refused to further investigate what appeared to be pathogens or other biological samples in the unmarked containers in the biolab. 

Despite city officials offering to pay for the testing, the CDC still refused, the committee said.

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The CDC summarized its findings in a three-page report, which stated that there was “no evidence of select agents or toxins” and had state and local authorities destroy evidence from the facility subject to a court order, the committee said.

The CDC ordered local officials to eradicate approximately 140 tons of general waste, including complex laboratory equipment and 448 gallons of medical and biological waste.

The committee noted that law enforcement was given “minimal guidance from federal experts” on the disposing of biological waste.

During the removal of the biological waste, local officials and contractors reported that they found a freezer labeled “Ebola” with silver-sealed bags.

The committee said that the CDC’s “rufusal” to test the pathogens found at the Biolab makes it “impossible for the Select Committee to fully assess the potential risks that this specific facility posed to the community.”

“It is possible that there were other highly dangerous pathogens that were in the coded vials or otherwise unlabeled. Due to government failures, we simply cannot know,” the report said.

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