U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told a group of British lawmakers that China had “bought" the head of the World Health Organization, according to people familiar with the matter.
At a private meeting in London on Tuesday, Pompeo said there was firm intelligence to show that a deal had been done to get Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the job of WHO director-general -- and that this had resulted in the deaths of U.K. citizens from coronavirus, the people said.
Three of those who were present at the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private, said Pompeo told them he believed China had bought the WHO chief. He didn’t give further details of what he meant but said there was intelligence to support this comment.
The Chinese Embassy in London and the State Department did not respond to emailed requests for comment. The WHO rejected “unfounded allegations" which first surfaced in British newspapers including the Telegraph on Tuesday.
Pompeo’s allegations mark a significant escalation in the Trump administration’s criticism of the WHO and of China’s response to the pandemic. U.S. officials have said the WHO allowed the coronavirus outbreak to get out of control and President Donald Trump has said it is too close to China.
Speaking a day after Tuesday’s meeting, Conservative member of Parliament Iain Duncan Smith, who was present, confirmed that Pompeo had said China swayed the WHO director-general election in May 2017 so Tedros won.
“He openly made the point that the arrival of the present chief who had taken the WHO backwards and that it had become quite political," Duncan Smith told Bloomberg TV Wednesday, when asked about Pompeo’s comments. “He therefore said that it was China had managed to get others to ensure that they voted for this particular candidate at the time and that is why the U.S., he said, has decided to withdraw and use the money," to tackle some of the projects the WHO supports.
According to three of the people present, Pompeo criticized the WHO and the United Nations Human Rights Council during the hour-long meeting.
“WHO is not aware of any such statement but we strongly reject any ‘ad hominem’ attacks and unfounded allegations," an emailed statement from the WHO read. “WHO urges countries to remain focused on tackling the pandemic that is causing tragic loss of life and suffering."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s officials were asked about Pompeo’s comments and confirmed that the Secretary of State had not made similar remarks in his meeting with the premier on Tuesday.
“The prime minister believes the WHO and its Director General are playing an important role in leading the global health response to the pandemic," Johnson’s spokesman James Slack told reporters. “The WHO continues to have an important role to play in leading the global health response to the pandemic, the U.K. is a major donor to the WHO."
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.