A top Chinese virologist has been tied to at least two Chinese military scientists who collaborated with her on coronavirus research in the past, including one now listed as deceased, a report Tuesday said.

In March, Dr. Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan-based virologist who has been accused of conducting risky experiments with bat coronaviruses, flatly denied allegations that the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted studies with the military, an NBC News report said.

But the network reported that it uncovered evidence linking Shi to military scientists. She collaborated with Ton Yigang, a military scientist, on coronavirus research in 2018 and then with Zhou Yusen, another military scientist in December 2019. Zhou who was listed as deceased in the footnote of an article published in 2020, the report said. The report said it could not confirm the cause of his death.

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David Asher, a former State Department adviser who co-authored a fact sheet last January on activity inside the lab, told NBC News that he is “confident” that the Chinese military was funding a “secret program” that involved coronaviruses.

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He defended his theory by saying he received the information from several foreign researchers inside the lab who saw some researchers there in military garb. The report pointed out that the lab insists that that facility is only used for civilian purposes. Asher and the WIV did not immediately respond to emails from Fox News.

China has called claims that the virus escaped the lab “absurd.”

“Some people in the United States have fabricated and peddled absurd stories claiming Wuhan lab leak, which China is gravely concerned about,” a Chinese official said earlier this month. “China urges the United States to respect facts and science, refrain from politicizing COVID-19 origin tracing and concentrate on international anti-pandemic cooperation.”

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The U.S. and others have accused China of failing to provide the raw data and access to sites that would allow a more thorough investigation into where the virus sprung from and how it initially spread.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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