XINGTAI, China — A Chinese court sentenced nine fentanyl traffickers Thursday in a case that is the 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 was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while Jiang Juhua and Wang Fengxi were sentenced to life in prison. Six other members of the operation received lesser sentences, ranging from six months to 10 years.
Working off a 2017 tip from the US Department of Homeland Security about an online drug vendor who went by the name Diana, Chinese police busted a drug ring based in the northern Chinese city of Xingtai that shipped synthetic drugs illicitly to the United States and other countries from a gritty clandestine laboratory. They arrested more than 20 suspects and seized 26.2 pounds of fentanyl and 42.1 pounds of other drugs.
In 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, according to US and Chinese law enforcement.
But the business had grave implications. Police photographs of the seizure show a dingy, chaotic scene, with open containers of unidentified chemicals and Chinese police in rubber gloves and breathing masks.
Austin Moore, an attaché to China for the US Homeland Security Department, said Chinese police identified more than 50 US residents who tried to buy fentanyl from the Xingtai organization. Those leads prompted over 25 domestic investigations and have already resulted in three major criminal arrests and indictments in New York and Oregon, he said.
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.