Scientists charged over attempt to smuggle dangerous bacteria out of country
Published Wednesday, April 3, 2013 1:56PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 3, 2013 5:47PM EDT
The RCMP has charged two former researchers with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over an attempt to smuggle highly contagious pathogens out of the country.
In a news release issued Wednesday, the Mounties said the charges are the culmination of an investigation into the activities of Dr. Klaus Nielsen and Wei Ling Yu that began in March 2011. The probe was conducted in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“The investigation focused on Dr. Nielsen and Ms. Yu’s unlawful efforts to commercialize intellectual property belonging to the CFIA and a private commercial partner,” the news release said.
Last October 24, RCMP and Ottawa police intercepted Nielsen, a well-respected scientist, on his way to the Ottawa airport. Officers found 17 vials of pathogens in Nielsen’s possession that “he was attempting to export in an unsafe manner.
“These vials were analyzed by the PHAC and found to contain live brucella bacteria that can infect livestock and humans.”
University of Guelph Prof. Keith Warriner said humans who come in contact with the bacteria can develop flu-like symptoms “that go on and on for months and months.”
Warriner told CTV’s Power Play Wednesday that brucella is what is known as a select agent, because it is “very nasty” and highly contagious.
“What the brucella was going to be used for is anyone’s guess,” Warriner said. “Certainly it’s a select agent that’s been put out there as a high risk. So what somebody was doing with 17 vials in an airport or in their own home is alarming.”
Dr. Nielsen has been charged with breach of trust by a public officer. He also faces several charges under the Export and Import Permits Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act.
He is scheduled to appear in court in Ottawa on April 17.
Yu is also facing a charge of breach of trust by a public officer. The RCMP have issued a Canada-wide warrant for her arrest. She is believed to be in China.
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian