A new study claiming that coronavirus was manufactured in a Chinese lab was published by non-profit groups founded by former Trump aide Steve Bannon and a billionaire Beijing exile.
The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, claims the disease was built by merging the genetic material of two bat coronaviruses and that a spike protein was edited to enhance its ability to latch onto human cells.
Scientists have slammed the report published on Monday as ‘unsubstantiated’ and said it ‘cannot be given any credibility.’
The study was produced by the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, sister organisations which Bannon, 66, founded with 50-year-old Chinese fugitive Guo Wengui.
US President Donald Trump (left) congratulates Steve Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (left) and Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui at a news conference on November 20, 2018 in New York
The Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation’s report was authored by Li-Meng Yan (giving an interview to British TV last week), who purports to be a former researcher at the Hong Kong School of Public Health
The P4 laboratory (C) at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. There have been numerous theories that the virus spread from this lab
The study was authored by Li-Meng Yan, who purports to be a former researcher at the Hong Kong School of Public Health, and who has recently appeared on Fox News in the US and ITV in the UK.
Ms Yan’s report has gained widespread public attention, being viewed more than 150,000 times since it was posted on the website Zenodo, which is operated by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research to promote open scientific data.
Documents posted on the Rule of Law Society’s website last year showed Bannon was the New York-based group’s chairman, The Daily Beast reported.
Neither the Rule of Law Society nor the Rule of Law Foundation appear to have published scientific or medical research before.
Guo, a real-estate tycoon and member of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, pledged $100 million to the Rule of Law Society to be led by Bannon. The pair announced the endeavour in 2018 and Bannon told the New York Times that he would take no pay.
The charities’ stated mission is: ‘To expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China.’
Bannon and Guo have also worked together on G News, which publishes anti-Communist Part articles in both English and Chinese, and which has propagated the theory that coronavirus was manufactured in a lab.
The theory was widely reported earlier this year and Trump suggested he had since intelligence reports to support the claims.
Trump continued to make the allusions despite the US national intelligence director’s office saying in April that the virus was ‘not manmade or genetically modified.’
The White House’s chief coronavirus strategist, Dr Anthony Fauci, has also stated emphatically that the virus was not manufactured.
Bannon on Guo’s $35 million yacht off the coast of Connecticut before his arrest last month
Billionaire Guo Wengui poses at his New York City apartment on November 28, 2017
Bannon and Guo Wengui (also known as Miles Kwok) appear at a news conference in New York, New York, U.S., November 20, 2018
In July, Bannon told the Mail on Sunday that spies were building a case against Beijing on the basis that the pandemic was caused by a leak from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan and that the subsequent cover-up was tantamount to ‘pre-mediated murder.’
But the timing of the Bannon-backed scientific study comes months after Mike Pompeo backed off from the lab idea.
The Secretary of State told Breitbart that ‘we know it began in Wuhan, but we don’t know from where or from whom, and those are important things.’
He had previously said that there was ‘enormous evidence’ and a ‘significant amount of evidence’ that the virus originated in a lab.
In her study, Ms Yan discounts the theory that coronavirus evolved in the wild and was then transferred to humans, claiming it ‘lacks substantial support’.
‘SARS-CoV-2 shows biological characteristics that are inconsistent with a naturally occurring virus,’ she wrote.
‘The evidence shows that [the virus] should be a laboratory product created by using bat coronaviruses ZC45 and/or ZXC21 as a template and/or backbone.’
She alleges the virus ‘should’ have been built using stores of these bat viruses, of which she claims samples are kept in Hong Kong and China.
Ms Yan also alleges that her work shows the virus could be built in just six months in the report’s abstract, but she does not return to the subject later in the paper.
It has been alleged that the Wuhan lab in China, pictured above, is where the coronavirus was developed. However, there is no evidence to back this claim
Dr Andrew Preston, an expert in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath, blasted her report as being ‘reminiscent of a conspiracy theory’.
‘The author’s affiliation is the Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation, New York,’ he said.
‘On their website the vision of this organisation is ‘to permit the people of China to live under a national system based on the rule of law, independent of the political system of the People’s Republic of China’ …
‘Given the unsubstantiated claims in the publication, which has not been peer reviewed, the report cannot be viewed with any credibility as it stands.’
Dr Michael Head, a global health expert at the University of Southampton, said the conspiracy theory peddled by the report has been ‘doing the rounds throughout the pandemic’.
‘Ultimately, it could be damaging to public health if reported non-critically without looking at the wider evidence,’ he said.
‘If people are exposed to and then believe conspiracy theories, this will likely have a negative impact on efforts to keep Covid-19 cases low and thus there will be more deaths and illness than there needs to be.
‘The genomics of the virus have been disentangled previously, for example a Nature peer-reviewed paper where they state ‘Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory constructed or a purposefully manipulated virus’.
‘Other evidence also shows that this type of coronavirus has existed in bats for decades. This new manuscript is not peer reviewed and does not obviously offer any data that overrides previous research.’
Ms Yan wrote in her paper that theories the virus is from nature and the meat market in Wuhan are a ‘smoke screen’, alleging she was told this by CDC scientists working in China.
She has previously accused Beijing of lying about when it learned of the killer infection and engaging in an extensive cover-up.
Ms Yan claims she fled to Hong Kong and escaped to America in April to ‘raise awareness’ of the pandemic.
Bannon leaving court in Manhattan on August 20, flags of the ‘New Federal State of China’, founded by Guo, fly behind him
Bannon is surrounded by journalists as he leaves court in Manhattan last month
She claims she was working at the Hong Kong School of Public Health, a reference laboratory for the World Health Organisation, but she was cut off after trying to alert people to human-to-human transmission of the virus in December.
She also claims that before leaving China her information was wiped from the Government database.
The lab has denied that Ms Yan ever ‘conducted any research on human-to-human transmission’ and said her assertions have ‘no scientific basis’.
Bannon, 66, was arrested on Guo’s yacht off the coast of Connecticut on August 20.
In an indictment with three others, Bannon is charged with unlawfully raising more than $25 million for the We Build The Wall campaign.
He pleaded not guilty and was bailed.
As he left the courthouse, he shouted: ‘This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.’