A message with a video clip is all over Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp asserting that U.S. authorities have arrested Dr. Charles Lieber, a Harvard professor, for creating COVID-19 and selling it to China.
The claim was that the professor was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for cooperating with China in developing the coronavirus. The rumor was found to have spread by India Today, an Indian news journal, which has a close association with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Lieber was arrested for fraud
This was debunked by the India Today Anti Fake News War Room (AFWA) that found the claim to be misleading. Dr. Charles Lieber was arrested in January 2020 for lying and fraud towards U.S. federal authorities involving funds he had allegedly received from China.
One YouTube video posted on Facebook claims in a coronavirus conspiracy theory that turned out to conflate a real news story with misinformation.
"The coronavirus was invented and patented in the USA and then planted in China," the YouTube headline indicated.
Lieber visited the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China to honor the founding of a lab he was credited by the said university with contributing to launch and supervise the WUT-Harvard Joint Nano Key Laboratory.
Officials from Harvard had not approved the laboratory and were not aware of it until early 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Also, they did not know that while conducting his research, Lieber received grants from the Department of Defence and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to federal authorities, Lieber was also being paid at a maximum of $50,000 a month by WUT, plus at least $150,000 in for living expenses.
No link between Lieber and coronavirus leak
Lieber, chair of Harvard's chemistry department and nanoscale materials chemist, was arrested on January 28th by federal agents. The doctor was accused of rendering false statements to government agencies about his contribution to China's "Thousand Talents" program and with the Wuhan University of Technology.
There was no connection between his arrest and the coronavirus.
Facebook users including Alex Alvarez and Meera Singh have shared the viral video that showed a clipping of the U.S. news channel "WCVB" with the caption, "USA just discovered the man who manufactured and sold the #coronavirus to #China. Dr #CharlesLieber, head of the chemistry and biology department at #HarvardUniversity, USA. He was just arrested today according to American department sources."
The suspicion of Lieber playing a vital role in creating the coronavirus was further ignited by remarks made by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who said on Fox News in February that the possibility of whether the coronavirus was released by a Wuhan lab was one "we at least have to ask."
The rumors gained more traction after the U.S. law enforcement detained two Chinese citizens simultaneously with Lieber's arrest.
One of the Chinese nationals was depicted in a Facebook user's viral post as allegedly smuggling vials of "sensitive biological samples" to bring to China.
According to the fact-checking website Snopes.com, "The DOJ (Department of Justice) announced three separate arrests in January 2020."
"The first was Lieber. The second involved Yanqing Ye, a lieutenant in the Chinese army accused of stealing U.S. research. And third was Zaosong Zheng, who stole 21 vials of biological research. While these three arrests all involve people lying about their ties to China, they took place at different universities and are not related."