China punishes fentanyl smugglers after joint United States probe

Chinese and U.S. enforcement officers hold a press conference on cracking down on fentanyl trafficking in Xingtai in northern China's Hebei province Thursday Nov. 7 2019. A Chinese court sentenced three fentanyl traffickers Thursday in a case that

Nevertheless, Trump announced new tariffs on China over the summer as a response to what he saw as China's continued failure to stem the flow of fentanyl into the US.

Yu Haibin, a senior official with China's National Narcotics Control Commission, told reporters in the northern city of Xingtai, where the court case was heard, that Chinese and US law enforcement had worked together to break up the ring.

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 US and Chinese law enforcement. In 2016, there were 18,335 drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl in the U.S., more than a 1,000% increase in the number of fentanyl-related deaths since 2011. A reprieved death sentence has the possibility of being commuted down to a life sentence if the person shows good behaviour within the allotted period.

Two others received life terms for trafficking fentanyl and alprazolam -- the hugely popular prescription anxiety drug branded as Xanax.

Results of the joint operation were announced by Chinese and USA authorities in the northern city of Xingtai.

It is relatively cheap and is frequently used by people unable to get drugs legally - either because the doctor won't prescribe them, they don't have the insurance policy, or because they have run out.

China sentenced three nationals to maximum punishments for smuggling fentanyl to the USA, in one of its highest-profile moves yet against the illicit flow of opioids that President Donald Trump has made a bone of contention in broader trade talks between Washington and Beijing.

Moore said officers in New Orleans obtained in August 2017 the contact details of a supplier in China known as "Diana".

A year later, Mr Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping had promised to stop fentanyl reaching the United States, but had not. They passed the information on to Chinese authorities, who agreed to a joint investigation and sting operation that yielded "an extraordinary number of arrests and seizures of contraband". Those leads prompted over 25 domestic investigations and have already resulted in three major criminal arrests and indictments in NY and OR, he said.

As well as the Chinese prosecutions, the investigation led to "three major criminal arrests" in NY and Oregon.

Yu Haibin, deputy director of the Office of China National Narcotics Control Commission, on Thursday called allegations that Chinese supply is at the root of America's opioid problem "irresponsible and inconsistent with the actual facts".

"As the success of the joint investigation demonstrates, Chinese and American investigators have the capacity to collaborate across global borders", Austin Moore, the attaché from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at Thursday's briefing.

Yu said that the issue of fentanyl was not something any one country could resolve.

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