By C. Douglas Golden September 19, 2021 at 11:15am
Fresh off of renewed questions about a grant given to a health organization that worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the National Institutes of Health is in the spotlight for giving grants to a man charged with illegally supplying high-tech medical equipment to Iran.
According to a Justice Department news release, Dr. Mohammad Faghihi was charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit money laundering, unlawful exports of goods to Iran, smuggling goods out of and into the U.S., wire fraud and making false statements.
Faghihi, a former associate professor at the University of Miami who was born in Iran, was charged in a Miami federal court alongside his wife and sister.
The three operated a company called Express Gene, which, for four years ending in November of 2020, “received numerous wire transfers from accounts in Malaysia, the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, totaling almost $3.5 million,” the news release said.
“Those third-country international wires [are] indicative of money laundering designed to conceal that payment originated in Iran,” the federal complaint said, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
The Department of Justice alleged in the news release that “some of the money received was used by Express Gene and its principals to purchase genetic sequencing equipment from U.S. manufacturers and ship them to Iran without a license from the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to export the machines, despite sanctions on Iran.”
The Miami Herald reported that prosecutors told a judge that one of Express Gene’s clients was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an Iranian military branch that’s also designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
The IRGC allegedly bought several genetic testing machines from Faghihi’s business.
According to the Herald, prosecutors said they caught up with Faghihi just as it seemed he was about to flee.
“He was literally about to board a plane on Monday when he was arrested,” prosecutor Michael Thakur told the court on Wednesday.
Faghihi was also accused of falsely obtaining grants from the NIH. The agency required him to disclose the international wire transfers he received, which he allegedly failed to do. The Herald reported Faghihi was the chief investigator on those grants.
According to the news release, the federal government’s case against Faghihi began after he arrived at Miami International Airport from Iran on Feb. 20. Upon his arrival, Customs and Border Protection officers inspected his luggage and questioned him.
“According to the charging documents, during his inspection by CBP officers, Faghihi made false statements, including that he did not practice his profession in Iran or conduct any type of research in Iran,” the news release read.
“In fact, according to the affidavit, Faghihi was the director of a laboratory within Shiraz University of Medical Science in Iran bearing his name: ‘Dr. Faghihi’s Medical Genetic Center.’”
That’s generally a tip-off, yes.
The charging documents also stated that Faghihi told a professor with an Iranian number on the WhatsApp messaging service that he’d managed to purchase two genetic sequencing devices in the U.S. and had installed them at the university, according to the Free Beacon.
The documents said IP numbers from the genetic sequencing devices confirmed they were at the research university, which is government-run — leading to questions about whether Faghihi has connections with the Iranian regime.
While those questions likely won’t be addressed until the case gets further down the line, another red flag like this is the last thing the NIH needs after documents revealed grants to a U.S. health organization conducting research that’s now at the center of the lab leak hypothesis.
Documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act seem to indicate the NIH funded so-called gain-of-function research into bat coronaviruses conducted with the Wuhan Institute of Virology by a group called EcoHealth Alliance.
Of the $3.1 million provided to EcoHealth Alliance in federal grants, $599,000 went to researching bat coronaviruses that could potentially infect humans. This included changing the viruses to make them more infectious to humans — the very definition of gain-of-function research.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s coronavirus czar, is the head of one of the NIH’s divisions, the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Testifying to Congress in May, he said the NIH and NIAID “categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Lying to Congress is, of course, a crime.
It’s unclear whether Fauci knew about the research being done by EcoHealth Alliance. However, the fact that the NIH was funding that kind of potentially dangerous research — with our chief geopolitical adversary at a lab where biosecurity questions had been raised — isn’t a good sign.
Now, the NIH finds itself linked to a man who allegedly smuggled scientific equipment to another geopolitical adversary, Iran.
It’s unclear whether the agency knew (or, indeed, could have known) anything about the crimes Faghihi is charged with. However, the association with him couldn’t have come at a worse time.