The Justice Department on Friday filed criminal charges against four Chinese chemical manufacturing companies and eight individuals over allegations they illegally trafficked the chemicals used to make fentanyl — a highly addictive painkiller that has fueled the opioid crisis in the United States.
The indictments mark the first time the United States has sought to prosecute any of the Chinese companies responsible for manufacturing the precursor chemicals used to make the painkiller.
Earlier this week, Antony Blinken made the first visit to China by a U.S. Secretary of State in five years and said he made clear that the United States needs much greater cooperation from China on stemming the flow of fentanyl.
During the visit China and the United States agreed to stabilize their intense rivalry so that it did not veer into conflict, but they failed to produce any breakthrough and the mood quickly soured again after U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday referred to Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a dictator.
The companies at the heart of the three separate indictments are accused of selling precursor chemicals to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, which in turn has flooded the United States with the drug.
The case comes two months after the Justice Department charged leaders of the cartel with running a fentanyl trafficking operation fueled by Chinese chemical companies, including three sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the onetime Sinaloa Cartel leader now imprisoned in the United States.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the department’s No. 2 official, said on Friday the cases “break new ground by attacking the fentanyl supply chain at its origin.”
“Fentanyl poses a singular threat, not only because the smallest doses can be lethal, but because fentanyl does not occur in nature. It is entirely man-made,” she added.
The Chinese Embassy did not respond to a request for comment, but last month as spokerperson said in a statement that it took “a firm stance on counter-narcotics,” adding that it had “worked with the U.S. to help solve its fentanyl abuse.”
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced the unsealing of an indictment against the China-based chemical company Hubei Amarvel Biotech, along with its executives Qingzhou Wang, 35, Yiyi Chen, 31, and Fnu Lnu, also known as Er Yang, with fentanyl trafficking, precursor chemical importation, and money laundering offenses.
Undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sources posing as fentanyl manufacturers met with Wang and Chen earlier this year and agreed to buy 210 kg of fentanyl precursors in exchange for payment in cryptocurrency, authorities said. The DEA retrieved the chemicals from a Los Angeles warehouse in May.
Wang and Chen were arrested by the federal agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on June 8 and ordered detained by a federal magistrate judge in Honolulu, Hawaii, on June 9 until they can be transported to New York to appear before the judge handling the case.
Yang remains at large.
In the Eastern District of New York, meanwhile, prosecutors announced the unsealing of two more indictments against three other Chinese companies and individuals accused of conspiring to manufacture and distribute fentanyl in the United States.
Prosecutors said the companies — including one called Hebei Sinaloa Trading Co — advertised precursor chemicals on social media platforms in Mexico and the United States, and used false customs forms and mislabeled packages to ship the chemicals by boat and air.