U.S. moves to arrest Chinese producers of illicit fentanyl for first time
Senior Justice Department officials are seeking the arrest of two Chinese nationals - Xiaobing Yan and Jian Zhang - for allegedly producing and importing large quantities of illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid linked to a number of overdose deaths in the United States. The case marks the first time the United States has criminally indicted Chinese citizens over fentanyl.
“This is about two major manufacturers of fentanyl. There are many others out there,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said during the announcement of the indictment. “That’s why when we talk to the Chinese, we’re not talking just about support of a particular investigation; we’re talking about a broader approach [to] empower the Chinese authorities to shut down all these labs preemptively."
The indictments are linked to recent drug busts in Mississippi and North Dakota. Federal prosecutors both states say they have proof that the recovered fentanyl in the cases was manufactured in Chinese laboratories illegally imported into the U.S.
In 2014, 5,544 Americans died from fentanyl use. By 2016, that number had reached 20,000.
Illicit fentanyl commonly ends up in counterfeit pain medications in the United States. In 2015, U.S. authorities began reporting overdoses and fatalities after residents took counterfeit Xanax or opioids that they did not realize contained fentanyl. The fake pills are made domestically after the fentanyl is imported into the U.S. in powdered form from Chinese labs, which also supply pill presses.
According to a Justice Department statement, the investigations revealed that "highly pure shipments of fentanyl from factories in China" are being sold "directly to U.S. customers who purchase it on the Internet. Unwary or inexperienced users often have no idea that they are ingesting fentanyl until it is too late."
In the statement, the Justice Department alleged that Xiaobing Yan sold fentanyl directly to U.S. customers visa websites and operated at least two plants in China able to manufacture tons of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. Jian Zhang is being indicted on similar charges: The Justice Department said that he ran a business that produced fentanyl in four or more labs in China. He also allegedly used the internet to advertise and sell fentanyl.
It is unclear whether the suspects will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges. China has no extradition treaty with the U.S. However, Justice Department officials are reportedly optimistic that their counterparts in China will take action once they have seen the evidence from the case.