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The Chinese Government Sentences Nine Fentanyl Smugglers To Prison

A Chinese Court Punishes a Group of Fentanyl Traffickers

On November 7, the Chinese judicial system delivered a setback to the global black market for narcotics. In Xingtai, a city in the northern Hebei province, a Chinese court sentenced five men and four women to prison for their involvement in a conspiracy to send fentanyl to the United States. Fentanyl is a powerful and highly addictive synthetic opioid which has fueled America’s epidemic of overdoses in recent years. The sentencing hearing last week was the result of the first-ever collaborative operation between the United States and China to control the flow of illegal drugs across the Pacific Ocean.

The Xingtai court gave Liu Yong, the alleged leader of the conspiracy, a suspended death sentence. In two years, the Chinese judiciary will decide whether to execute Liu or commute his sentence to life imprisonment. Two other conspirators, Jiang Juhua and Wang Fengxi, will go to prison for the remainder of their lives, and the six other defendants received prison sentences which vary in length from six months to ten years. All nine defendants pleaded guilty to drug trafficking. Yu Haibin, the Deputy Director of the Office of the National Narcotics Control Commission, described the sentences as evidence of the “position and resolution of the Chinese government to severely punish fentanyl-related crimes and our consistent zero-tolerance attitude on drug-related crimes.”

How Investigators Uncovered the Fentanyl Scheme

In 2017, the Chinese government banned the manufacture and sale of several varieties of fentanyl which were flooding the United States through the international postal system. At that time, China was America’s largest source of fentanyl, so law enforcement in both nations launched a joint investigation into some of China’s most prolific fentanyl-trafficking schemes.

In August 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) arrested a person in New Orleans who was involved in trading fentanyl. That person agreed to serve as an informant. According to Austin Moore, a China-based DHS official, the Department used the informant and a wire payment to order fentanyl from “Diana,” a Chinese vendor who shipped illegal drugs to the United States. As investigators would soon learn, “Diana” was part of a criminal enterprise which advertised narcotics to Americans online, in English. The Xingtai network, as the enterprise would become known, sold many drugs in addition to fentanyl, such as Xanax and khat.

Moore recounts that the investigators then forwarded details about “Diana” to Chinese authorities, resulting in “an extraordinary number of arrests and seizures” in China. In addition to arresting over twenty participants in the Xingtai network, Chinese police confiscated about 26 lb. of fentanyl, an amount sufficient to kill almost 6 million people.

The joint investigation also discovered that more than 50 Americans had ordered fentanyl from the Xingtai network, prompting the United States government to arrest and indict at least three people in New York and Oregon. “As the success of this joint investigation demonstrates,” Moore explained, “Chinese and American investigators have the capacity to collaborate across international borders.”

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Chinese Fentanyl: A Question of Responsibility

Although the United States and China worked together to bring the Xingtai network to justice, fentanyl trafficking remains a contentious issue between the two countries. As recently as this year, American leaders criticized the Chinese government for failing to effectively stop fentanyl production and prevent the lethal opioid from finding its way into American mailboxes. In response, Chinese leaders dispute the American claim that most fentanyl in the United States continues to originate in China. To prove its commitment to ending fentanyl trafficking, the Chinese government classified all fentanyl analogs as controlled substance this year and promised to amplify its investigations into fentanyl shipments.

However, Yu Haibin reiterated the Chinese view last week that his country is not exclusively responsible for policing fentanyl. “The huge demand in the U.S. and the supervision of the drug over the counter should be the main factor,” Yu said at a press conference in Xingtai. “If illegal demand cannot be effectively reduced, it is very difficult to fundamentally tackle the fentanyl issue.”

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