08-13-2014, 06:57 PM #1
Canadian scientist admits he tried to smuggle deadly bacteria
Former Canadian Food Inspection Agency scientist Klaus Nielsen hid the deadly bacteria he intended to smuggle to China in a child’s lunch bag, an Ottawa court heard Wednesday.
The first airing of facts in the case revealed a complex tale of domestic and international intrigue involving a brilliant, respected public servant who was required to turn his research and patents over to the Canadian government but who instead decided to do some illegal business on the side.
Aiding Nielsen in his venture was a Chinese-born female colleague who apparently left Canada shortly before his arrest and hasn’t returned.
Nielsen, who turns 69 later this month, pleaded guilty Wednesday to 10 charges related to his handling and attempts to smuggle the brucella bacteria and one charge of breach of trust.
He will likely be sentenced later this year, and faces possible jail time.
Nielsen, who was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, but has been a Canadian citizen since the 1960s, was arrested on Oct. 24, 2012, as he was headed to the Ottawa airport en route to China.
Police, who had been running an undercover surveillance operation on Nielsen, found 17 vials of the pathogen in his check-in luggage. He had packed them in a thermos of ice inside the lunch bag.
Nielsen is the author of numerous books and scholarly scientific papers on the brucella bacteria and has travelled the world lecturing and advising governments on the subject.
The brucella bacteria and the disease it causes — brucellosis — can infect humans and animals, especially cattle.
According to a statement of facts agreed to by defence and prosecution lawyers, Nielsen and fellow scientist Wei Ling Yu set up a company in 2006 called the Peace River Biotechnology Company to manufacture and sell brucellosis diagnostic kits, which, as a Canadian Food Inspection Agency employee, he had helped develop.
Nielsen developed the diagnostic method in partnership with American scientist Michael Jolley, who used the kits to develop his own legitimate business with the company Diachemix in the United States.
In an agreement with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Diachemix held worldwide commercialization rights to all the patents arising from Nielsen and Jolley’s work.
In the spring of 2010, Diachemix alleged that the Chinese-based Peace River Biotechnology Company was competing against them.
Diachemix threatened to sue the CFIA, which in turn employed business experts in China to investigate Peace River.
CFIA fired both Nielsen and Yu in January 2011 for contravening federal government conflict-of-interest rules and reported them to the RCMP several weeks later.
The Mounties then launched their undercover surveillance operation against Nielsen, during which an officer posing as a Kenyan businessman met and discussed a “large scale” deal with Nielsen and Yu.
During their 18-month operation, police secretly entered Nielsen’s home in Richmond and copied contents of his computer and other electronic storage devices.
“They planned to use the intellectual property and materials of the CFIA to commence commercial manufacturing of brucellosis kits in China,” says the court document. “They initially planned to do so in co-operation with China’s Ministry of Agriculture and provide a share of the profits to the ministry.”
In his emails to potential customers in other countries, Nielsen offered himself as an authority and told them the Peace River product is superior and cheaper than the Diachemix equivalent but neglected to mention his involvement in Peace River.
Nielsen and Yu were able to achieve that lower price, at least in part, by registering their company in China as foreign owned and avoiding tax.
In some of their earlier email exchanges while still working at the CFIA, Nielsen and Yu used aliases – she was “Lucy” and he was “LF.”
Although most of their exchanges were about their own business ventures, in a partially redacted Sept. 7, 2009 exchange they get more personal.
“I do not care the big house,” she says. “I think I will have a very nice house very soon after we make money . . . huge amount of money, big house at beach.”
In a reply the next day, Nielsen replies: “Yes, our dreams will come true.”
Lu, 49, became a Canadian citizen in 2005 but is believed to be living in China. She faces arrest if she returns to Canada.
There is no evidence that Nielsen profited financially from the crimes related to his attempt to smuggle the bacteria to China.
But Crown prosecutors say that Nielsen was “fully aware” that he was carrying the human pathogens in a manner that “demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of the public.”
“Should the suitcase have been damaged, lost or subject to inspection innocent third parties would have handled the contents and been exposed to the pathogen.”
Brucellosis was eradicated in domestic animals in Canada more than 20 years ago, but thousands of brucellosis cases are regularly reported in developing countries and the situation is said to be especially acute in China.
A strain of brucella was the first bacteria used by the United States military when it began producing biological weapons in the mid-1950s but it was discontinued after it proved ineffective as a weapon.
April 30, 1991 – January 31, 2013
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