Fri, Nov 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

China jails nine for fentanyl trafficking

RARE COLLABORATION:US President Donald Trump in August criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping for failing to do more to combat opioid distribution to the US

AP, XINGTAI, China

A Chinese court yesterday sentenced nine fentanyl traffickers in a case that was a culmination of a rare collaboration between Chinese and US law enforcement to crack down on global networks that manufacture and distribute lethal synthetic opioids.

Liu Yong (劉勇) was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while Jiang Juhua (蔣菊華) and Wang Fengxi (王風璽) were sentenced to life in prison.

Six other members of the operation got lesser sentences, ranging from six months to 10 years.

Working off a 2017 tip-off from the US Department of Homeland Security about an online drug vendor who went by the name Diana, Chinese police busted a drug ring in Xingtai that shipped synthetic drugs to the US and other nations from a gritty clandestine laboratory.

They arrested more than 20 suspects and seized 11.9kg of fentanyl, as well as 19.1kg of other drugs.

In its form, the enterprise resembled a small business, with a perky sales force that spoke passable English, online marketing, contract manufacturing and a sophisticated export operation, US and Chinese law enforcement said.

However, the business had grave implications. Police photographs of the seizure show a dingy, chaotic scene, with open containers of unidentified chemicals, and Chinese police officers in rubber gloves and breathing masks.

Liu and Jiang were accused of manufacturing and trafficking illicit drugs. The others were accused of trafficking.

Death sentences are almost always commuted to life in prison after the reprieve.

Chinese officials said the Xingtai case was one of three fentanyl trafficking networks they are pursuing based on US intelligence, but declined to discuss the details of the other cases, which are ongoing.

Homeland Department attache to China Austin Moore said the Xingtai case was “an important step,” showing that Chinese and US investigators have the capacity to collaborate across international borders.

Scrambling to contain surging overdose deaths, Washington has blamed Beijing for failing to curb the supply of synthetic drugs that US officials say come mainly from China.

US President Donald Trump in August criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for failing to do more to combat illicit opioid distribution in China’s vast, freewheeling chemicals industry.

US officials have reportedly moved to link Beijing’s efforts on fentanyl to trade talks.

China National Narcotics Control Commission Deputy Director Yu Haibin yesterday called allegations that Chinese supply is at the root of the opioid problem in the US “irresponsible and inconsistent with the actual facts.”

“Drug crime is the public enemy of all humankind,” he said. “It’s about the life of human beings. It should not be related with the trade war or other political reasons.”

Chinese officials have been at pains to emphasize the efforts they have made to expand drug controls and crack down on illicit suppliers, even though synthetic opioid abuse is not perceived to be a significant problem in China, but prosecuting cases against a new, rising class of synthetic drug kingpins has remained a challenge.

Profit-seeking chemists have adroitly exploited regulatory loopholes by making small changes to the chemical structure of banned substances to create so-called analogues that are technically legal.

US officials have been hopeful that China’s move earlier this year to outlaw unsanctioned distribution of all fentanyl-like drugs as a class would help constrain supply and make it easier to prosecute Chinese dealers.

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