A Chinese court in Xingtai, Hebei Province, sentenced nine fentanyl traffickers Thursday in an apparent demonstration that China is serious about holding up its part of a bargain with Washington.
Chinese police busted a drug ring based in the northern Chinese city of Xingtai that shipped Fentanyl to the U.S. and other countries from a clandestine laboratory, after having received a tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about an online drug vendor who went by the name Diana.
In form, the company resembled a small business, with an active sales force that spoke English, online marketing, contract manufacturing, and sophisticated export operation, according to U.S. and Chinese law enforcement.
The ringleader, a 41-year-old man, was given a suspended death sentence for selling and manufacturing narcotics and two others received life sentences.
The remaining six members of the smuggling ring were given sentences varying from six months to 10 years.
Police photographs of the seizure show a chaotic scene, with open containers of unidentified chemicals and Chinese police in rubber gloves and breathing masks.
Chinese officials said the Xingtai case was one of three fentanyl trafficking networks they are pursuing based on U.S. intelligence, but refused to discuss the details of the other cases, which are ongoing.
Struggling to contain surging overdose deaths, Washington has blamed Beijing for failing to curb the supply of synthetic drugs that U.S. officials say come mainly from China.
In August, President Donald Trump lashed out at Chinese President Xi Jinping for failing to do more to combat illicit opioid distribution in China’s vast, freewheeling chemicals industry.
U.S. officials have reportedly moved to link Beijing’s efforts on fentanyl to U.S. trade talks.
Prosecuting cases against a new, rising class of Chinese synthetic drug kingpins has remained a challenge.
U.S. officials have been hopeful that China’s move earlier this year to outlaw the unsanctioned distribution of all fentanyl-like drugs as a class will help constrain supply and make it easier to prosecute Chinese dealers.