9 jailed after joint China-US fentanyl probe

Xingtai: A Chinese court sentenced nine fentanyl traffickers Thursday 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 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 got lesser sentences, ranging from six months to ten years. Chinese police arrested more than 20 criminal suspects and seized 11.9 kgs of fentanyl as well as 19.1 kgs 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 U.S. 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.

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 U.S. intelligence, but declined to discuss the details of the other cases, which are ongoing.

Austin Moore, an attaché to China for the US Homeland Security Department, said the Xingtai case was "an important step" showing that Chinese and U.S. 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. 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. US officials have reportedly moved to link Beijing's efforts on fentanyl to U.S. trade talks.

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