DOJ Announces First Ever Charges Against Chinese Manufacturers of Opiate Substances
Two Chinese nationals suspected of manufacturing and distributing in the U.S. a synthetic opioid that kills thousands of Americans every year were recently indicted.
The two suspects, Xiaobing Yan and Jian Zhang, face an array of charges, including conspiracy to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and drugs with a similar chemical makeup in the U.S. through the mail or international delivery services.
Suspects are believed to be in China, and Beijing is unlikely to hand over two of its citizens for prosecution in the U.S.
Fentanyl is roughly 50 times more powerful than heroin, and has become a significant player in America’s opioid crisis. In 2016, approximately 20,000 Americans died from fentanyl overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug is also a legal prescription painkiller.
"For the first time, we have indicted major Chinese fentanyl traffickers who have been using the Internet to sell fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to drug traffickers and individual customers in the United States," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a news conference at the Justice Department.
The announcement comes amid heightened public attention on the administration's efforts to combat the opioid crisis, and the president said Monday he plans to declare it a national emergency next week.
The case against Yan, 40, began in 2013 in Mississippi when authorities uncovered a domestic drug ring selling synthetics, Rosenstein said. Investigators ultimately traced the drugs back to Yan, who allegedly operated two chemical plants in China and websites selling fentanyl to Americans.
The case against Zhang, 38, began in North Dakota in 2015 after the overdose of a local 18-year-old. Rosenstein said investigators mapping out the distribution network traced the drugs through Oregon, Canada and eventually to Zhang in China.
Zhang's organization would send fentanyl as well as pill presses, stamps and dyes to U.S. customers through the mail, according to prosecutors.
Yan faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, if convicted. Zhang faces up to life in prison and a $12.5 million fine, if convicted.
The cases are being investigated by a task force that includes the Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
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