September 20, 2013

Vaccine from Maine firm can't be used to make bioweapon, expert says

The question of how the virus sent to Syria in 2001 can be used arose after a New York Times allegation.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Federal records show that Maine Biological Laboratories agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty to the Bureau of Industry and Security in 2005 to settle a dozen regulatory charges related to its export of "vaccines containing the Newcastle disease virus" to Syria.

The settlement agreement – signed by David Zacek, then the president of Lohman Animal Health – also says the company sold the vaccines "with knowledge that violations of the regulations would occur."

Additionally, the shipments to Syria appear as one of six counts against the company in a simultaneous criminal case. Federal court records show that the company pleaded guilty to the fifth of those counts, which charged that it "knowingly failed" to obtain required licenses for a shipment to Syria of more than 10 million doses of the Newcastle disease vaccine. In the criminal judgment, it is described as a violation of the federal Export Administration Act.

The federal prosecutor in the case, Toby Dilworth, told the Press Herald that the count was a "criminal charge, and MBL pleaded guilty to it. In doing so, they admitted that they committed the offense."

The company was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine to settle that and five other counts, which included a range of criminal charges related to shipments of live avian influenza viruses from Saudi Arabia. Also, eight of the company's former executives pleaded guilty to smuggling, mail fraud and conspiracy related to the Saudi shipments, and several received prison sentences.

Asked about the criminal charge related to the Syrian shipment, the company reasserted in a statement Wednesday that it was guilty only of regulatory infractions. It did not provide supporting information.

"It is obvious that former employees of Maine Biological Laboratories made decisions that, either by ignorance or intention, were wrong and illegal," the company said of the other criminal charges related to the Saudi shipments. "Lohmann has removed those individuals and the company today operates in a very different way.

"The point is that in neither case was there ever any intent, possibility, or accusation of the company delivering what could be used as biological or chemical weapons to any country," it said.

In the statement to the Press Herald and its column in the Sun Journal, the company said that because of the media coverage, "our company's reputation and employees' morale were damaged. In addition, violent actions have been suggested against our company."

Lohman also described changes it has made since acquiring Maine Biological Laboratories to ensure regulatory compliance, including training by outside consultants on export rules, the hiring of a dedicated compliance officer, and regular internal and external audits.

 

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

 

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