The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian ‘bio labs’

Hunter Biden. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
14 min

“Hunter Biden’s Rosemont Seneca investment fund financed the Pentagon’s military biological program in Ukraine, said Igor Kirillov, head of the radiation, chemical and biological defense forces of the Russian Armed Forces.”

RIA Novosti, Russian state-owned domestic news agency, March 24

“The National Pulse is reporting tonight apparently a private equity firm run by Hunter Biden funded some of the research into pathogens in these bio labs.”

— Tucker Carlson, remarks on his Fox News show, March 24

“Russia’s assertion that President Biden’s son Hunter was ‘financing … biological laboratories in Ukraine’ was based in truth, according to e-mails reviewed by The Post.”

New York Post article, March 26

“BOMBSHELL: Did Russia Invade Ukraine Because of the Bidens’ Biolabs? Hunter’s Laptop Says ‘Yes’ ”

— Headline on PJ Media article, March 26

The Russian Defense Ministry knows how to stir up the interest of the right-leaning news media in the United States — just mention Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up biowarfare labs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics — claims that have been revived as part of the invasion of Ukraine. As part of his media presentation, Igor Kirillov of the Russian armed forces alleged the labs were part of the U.S. plot to study the natural immunity of the population to identify the most dangerous pathogen for people in the region.

The Defense Ministry released a complex-looking flow chart with spaghetti lines depicting not only the involvement of Hunter Biden but financier George Soros in the alleged financing of “bioweapons labs.” But the reference to Hunter Biden was catnip to the right-leaning media. Reporters immediately dug into their copies of Biden’s laptop, supposedly left behind for repair in a Delaware shop in April 2019, and dredged up emails that they suggested validated the Russian report.

First of all, as we have previously documented, these are not bioweapons labs, but biological research facilities focused on better detecting, diagnosing and monitoring infectious-disease outbreaks. Second, random emails can be easily misinterpreted without additional reporting.

We’ve dug into the records and discussed the deals in question with people involved. The reporting from those news outlets is false. Hunter Biden has come under scrutiny for business deals in places such as Ukraine and China that took place while his father was vice president. But he was not “financing” these labs. In fact, he was not part of a decision to invest in a company at the center of the Russian allegations, he did not profit from it as he was kicked out of the investment firm over cocaine allegations, and the company made little money from its tiny bit of business in Ukraine.

The Pentagon program

There are several layers to this story, so let’s peel the onion. There is a U.S.-led project, known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, to help former Soviet republics transform old labs which had once been integrated into the Soviet biological weapons program into state-of-the-art civilian biological research facilities. Various American companies received contracts from the Pentagon to do that work. One of those subcontractors — a relatively minor one called Metabiota — did some work in Ukraine. That firm received an investment from a private equity firm associated with Hunter Biden.

That investment had nothing to do with the labs in Ukraine. But the Russian Defense Ministry’s flow chart is a good illustration of how tenuous connections can be made to look sinister. Underneath Hunter Biden, the chart shows a box with Soros. A line then connects Soros to Gilead Sciences, a U.S. biopharmaceutical company that was a Pentagon subcontractor. The line eventually leads to the Ukrainian Health Ministry and the labs.

Soros Fund Management, an investment firm founded by Soros in 1970, as recently as 2010 owned shares of Gilead, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, along with hundreds of other stocks. But that’s it. “We have no affiliation with George Soros — any assertion otherwise is completely false,” said Chris Ridley, a Gilead spokesman. His statement is confirmed by the most recent SEC filing by Soros Fund Management, as well as by Laura Silber, a Soros spokesperson.

Now let’s examine the alleged Hunter Biden connection. The flow chart shows a line from Hunter Biden to “Rosemont Seneca,” which in turn is connected to Metabiota, which advises governments and companies on health epidemics. There’s also a line connecting Metabiota to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), an arm of the Pentagon, which initially funded the Ukrainian labs. The line from Metabiota then traces to the labs.

The DTRA line to Metabiota is a tacit admission by the Russians that Pentagon funding played a role in the company’s work. The United States and Ukraine in 2005 had signed an agreement under which the Defense Department, at no cost to Ukraine, would assist the Ministry of Health in building and maintaining the labs. The United States “has invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine since 2005, supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites,” the Defense Department said in a fact sheet released this month.

A San Francisco technology company

Metabiota, which is based in San Francisco, was founded by Nathan Wolfe, a prominent virologist. The firm essentially acted as a staffing agency, helping identify people who could be hired to work in high-level biological research labs and providing research mentoring, according to a company official. Another U.S. firm, Black & Veatch, was hired by the Defense Department under a contract aimed at enhancing disease diagnosis, mainly to build labs; Metabiota was one of its subcontractors.

“There are only diagnostic laboratories for routine human and animal health requirements akin to any standard U.S.-based public-facing diagnostic laboratory,” said Andrea Chaney, a DTRA spokesperson. “For many years, the companies Black & Veatch, Metabiota, and Gilead Sciences have performed a variety of training, renovation, and equipping projects competitively awarded by the Cooperative Threat Reduction program to support Ukrainian critical human and veterinarian public health infrastructure needs. The work has always centered on improving the health, safety and well-being of the Ukrainian people.”

Dangerous pathogens are kept in freezers in these labs, so U.S. officials have expressed concern that a loss of electrical power due to the war could allow for their escape — concerns that Russia has used to underscore its claims that these are military bioweapons labs working for the United States.

Federal contracting records show Metabiota also received $18.4 million from DTRA between 2014 and 2017, under a competitively bid contract. Just $307,091 is listed as earmarked for “Ukraine research projects.” The company had a significantly bigger contract at the time with DTRA in Tanzania, focused on controlling the spread of Rift Valley fever.

An investment firm tied to Hunter Biden

So where’s Hunter Biden in all of this? Let’s start with an investment vehicle called Rosemont Seneca Partners. It was founded by Hunter Biden, Devon Archer and Christopher Heinz in 2009. That firm in turn had a stake in an independent firm called Rosemont Seneca Technology Partners (RSTP), which invested in emerging technology companies.

Through his stake in Rosemont Seneca, Biden was a member of RSTP and would have benefited from successful investments. But he was not on the committee making decisions on investments, according to an investor at the time, who asked not to be identified because he was disclosing confidential business information.

When Metabiota had the DTRA contract, the company was transitioning from a nonprofit to a profit-making enterprise and sought funding from Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors. In early 2014, RSTP invested $500,000 in what is known as the seed round — a new company’s initial effort to raise capital, according to the investor. Later that year, RSTP contributed another $10 million, according to a 2014 confidential memo on Metabiota’s investments obtained by The Fact Checker. That gave RSTP 13.4 percent ownership of the company. The memo said Metabiota was not expected to achieve consistent profitability until 2017.

These investments were not related to the U.S.-funded labs in Ukraine. Instead, investors such as RSTP were betting on a new idea — selling insurance to protect businesses against a global pandemic.

Any company seeking to raise money in the private equity market needs “a story” to lure investors, who hope to score big if the company eventually sells shares to the public. The Ebola virus outbreak in 2014 had raised corporate fears of a global pandemic. Metabiota’s “story” was that the data collected by the firm’s epidemiologists and researchers around the world provided an early-warning system on emerging biothreats and could be used to create an insurance product that would shield companies — or even entire countries — from a global economic downturn during a pandemic.

There was not much money that could be earned with Metabiota’s contracts to place researchers in labs. But the insights that could be gained from being on the ground were considered valuable. “The DOD contract was a loss leader intended to build a knowledge base,” the investor said, using a business term for selling a product or service at a price that is not profitable in hopes of generating additional business.

Most of the company’s work was in African countries, according to the confidential deal memo. Regarding Ukraine, the 44-page memo only mentions that the company had an office in the country, which will “implement a research project in Ukraine aimed at understanding the threat of tularemia and anthrax” and “develop and implement a public awareness campaign to mitigate the threat of African swine fever.” A person familiar with the Ukraine contract at the time said it employed about five local nationals and one expat.

Hunter Biden’s ouster

Moreover, by the time the document was written, on Nov. 18, 2014, Hunter Biden was already in hot water with his colleagues. A month earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that he had been discharged that February from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine use. Biden had not disclosed the discharge to RSTP members and so in early 2015 he was eased out of the firm, the investor said. RSTP in 2016 rebranded itself Pilot Growth Equity.

“We were marketing our funds to investors, positioning our management as having a certain level of character,” the investor said. “We would not be able to raise money from investors” if Biden had remained a member of RSTP. So Biden was removed from the RSTP Management Company and RSTP Fund I, which included the Metabiota investment. After that point, he had no economic interest or ownership interest in either entity.

Chris Clark, an attorney for Hunter Biden, did not respond to repeated queries. Archived RSTP webpages show that Biden was removed from the “team” page between 2014 and 2015, even as his business partner Devon Archer remained.

Pilot Growth Equity invested a total of $11.39 million in the fund and still owns 10.8 percent of Metabiota, according to a Dec. 31, 2020, investment sheet viewed by The Fact Checker. The 2014 investment memo optimistically anticipated an initial public offering by 2017, but that did not happen. Even with the coronavirus pandemic, hopes for a booming insurance market to protect companies from such events have not panned out. Wolfe, in a 2020 interview with Wired magazine, said not a single company ever bought an insurance contract.

“Our current value of the [Pilot Growth Equity] investment is $1.1 million,” the investor said. “So this was a big money loser.”

In a statement to The Fact Checker, Metabiota said: “Metabiota worked in Ukraine until 2020, providing training to help improve local capacity to detect and respond to health threats. We’re concerned about the disinformation and the impact it may have on the safety of scientists working to support public health in Ukraine and worldwide.”

Russian disinformation spreads

In other words, Hunter Biden was barely involved in the RSTP deal. Moreover, the investment had nothing to do with the Ukraine labs. But Hunter Biden’s laptop contains some emails that discuss the pending investment.

Those emails led to reporting in the right-wing media that did not initially mention the source of the original allegation — the Russian Defense Ministry. And the journey of this false storyline from Moscow to U.S. media offers yet another reminder of how disinformation spreads in this polarized modern era.

The National Pulse, a website run by former associates of former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, on Thursday published an account based on some of the laptop emails about 12 hours after the Russian Defense Ministry made its presentation. There is no mention of the Russian claim. Raheem Kassam, editor in chief, insisted to The Fact Checker that he was unaware of the Russian allegations until five minutes before publication, when he did a quick Google check.

Carlson then cited the National Pulse reporting that night on his show. He also made no mention of the Russian Defense Ministry allegations, though in another part of his monologue he said he had spoken to “someone with direct firsthand knowledge of this topic,” who claimed that the United States had moved “bioweapons research offshore” to Ukraine because it was too dangerous to conduct in the United States. Maybe it’s just a coincidence but that’s also what Kirillov, the Russian official, had claimed that morning. Carlson did not respond to a request for comment.

The Daily Mail on Friday followed up with a more detailed look at the Biden emails mentioning Metabiota. This article acknowledged the Russian presentation but declared “emails and correspondence obtained by from Hunter’s abandoned laptop show the claims may well be true.” That same approach was taken by the New York Post in article published on Saturday. The New York Post did not respond to a request for comment, while a Daily Mail spokesman said: “We stand by our reporting.”

One of the laptop emails shows Hunter Biden contacting an official at Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company where he was a board director, in April 2014 about the possibility of a “science project” involving Metabiota. The reply email from the Burisma official indicates some skepticism and confusion about what Biden was pitching.

In the early months of 2014, political tensions in Ukraine had risen sharply. The Ukrainian president had resigned in February and fled to Russia. Within weeks, Russia invaded and subsequently annexed Crimea.

In response, the Defense Department issued a “stop-work” order on Black & Veatch’s contract and Metabiota was scrambling to find work for its local scientists and researchers, the person familiar with the contract said. Biden briefly tried to use his connections to help the firm, but nothing came of his outreach. The work ended in June 2014 and was not revived until the political situation calmed down a year later — after RSTP had cut ties with Biden.

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