University of Texas in FBI probe over claims Chinese government tried to illegally obtain coronavirus research

University of Texas in FBI probe over claims Chinese government tried to illegally obtain coronavirus research

  • Staff told in an email that it was notified of the investigation last week, and researchers would be contacted about alleged role of the Houston consulate
  • Work by some of its scientists has contributed to some promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates

An American university whose work has contributed to some promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates has been contacted by the FBI over allegations that the Chinese consulate in Houston had sought to obtain such research.

The University of Texas told faculty and research staff in an email on Monday that it was notified of the investigation by the FBI last week. FBI agents would contact university researchers about the alleged role of the consulate and “efforts by the Chinese government to illegally procure research from American universities, including coronavirus vaccine research”, according to the email seen by the South China Morning Post. It described this as part of an “evolving national situation”.

“We want to make you aware of an ongoing and evolving national situation that may affect some members of our research community,” read the email, which was signed by Dan Jaffe, the university’s interim executive vice-president, and Alison Preston, interim vice-president for research.

The email said the university did not know whom the FBI intended to contact or what they planned to discuss, and it had not shared anyone’s information or details about the ongoing research with FBI agents.

The university could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

As relations rapidly deteriorate between Beijing and Washington, the US government has alleged China’s Houston consulate was a nest of Chinese spies who stole trade and technology secrets from facilities in Texas, and ordered it to close last week.