MIAMI – Referencing a theory that the coronavirus pandemic started after the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed two bills into law with the goal of stopping criminal foreign influence and corporate espionage in Florida.
DeSantis brought up two Northeast Florida examples — a former University of Florida professor and researcher accused of getting $1.8 million in federal funds while concealing support he received from the Chinese government and a Jacksonville woman who pleaded guilty to trying to illegally export engines to China — as reasons why the new laws were needed.
“All we are doing today is saying, Enough is enough. We’ve got to start fighting back and so the state of Florida is doing that,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said one bill safeguards public institutions from undue foreign influence by prohibiting agreements between public entities and the Communist Party of China or Cuba.
The law also bans Confucius Institutes in the state, DeSantis said, an institution that has been criticized for white-washing Chinese history and attempting to gain influence in U.S. schools.
The bill makes sure all nations, states, corporations, organizations and individuals seeking to engage with colleges and universities are fully vetted, the governor added.
The Combating Corporate Espionage in Florida Act creates new criminal offenses in Florida for the theft and trafficking of trade secrets.
“Anyone who willfully without authorization steals or attempts to steal a trade secret, and use it for their own benefit will now face a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison,” DeSantis said. “If the same person tries to sell the stolen trade secret, they’ll face a second-degree felony with even more penalties.”
If someone violates the law on behalf of a foreign government the penalties are significantly enhanced, DeSantis said.
During the news conference in Miami, DeSantis also made reference to the Wuhan lab leak theory and accused China of a coverup.
“If you look at what’s gone on now with the coronavirus pandemic and the coverup of the origins of COVID-19, it is pretty clear that this was a virus that almost assuredly leaked out of this lab and Wuhan. This is a lab where these scientists were working very closely with the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese military,” DeSantis said. “When you had these folks fall ill who we’re working in that lab last fall, the Communist Party of China decided to cover it up. They didn’t give any information out. They didn’t ask for any assistance they didn’t give a heads up to anybody. They tried to cover it up. And basically, the world has had to endure over a year and a half.”
It’s a theory that emerged early in the pandemic but has picked up steam again recently.
Biden’s announcement came after a U.S. intelligence report found several researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized.