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Justice Department Indicts 2 Chinese Nationals In Synthetic Opioid Case

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Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces the indictment of two Chinese nationals for conspiring to distribute fentanyl in a news conference at the Justice Department on Tuesday.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces the indictment of two Chinese nationals for conspiring to distribute fentanyl in a news conference at the Justice Department on Tuesday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Justice Department said Tuesday it has indicted two Chinese nationals suspected of manufacturing and then distributing in the U.S. a synthetic opioid that officials say kills thousands of Americans every year.

The two suspects, Xiaobing Yan and Jian Zhang, face a raft of charges, including conspiracy to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and drugs with a similar chemical makeup in the U.S. through the mail or international delivery services.

Fentanyl is roughly 50 times more powerful than heroin, and it has become a significant factor in the opioid crisis ravaging the United States. In 2016 alone, some 20,000 Americans died in 2016 due to fentanyl overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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“For the first time, we have indicted major Chinese fentanyl traffickers who have been using the Internet to sell fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to drug traffickers and individual customers in the United States,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a news conference at the Justice Department.

The cases, he said, highlight a “new and disturbing trend” in the opioid epidemic in the U.S. He said that fentanyl and its analogues are entering the country in several ways, including shipments from labs in China directly to American customers who buy the drugs on the Internet.

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But it was not immediately clear what impact the indictments will have in efforts to stem the flow into the U.S. of illegal synthetics produced in China.

Both suspects are believed to currently be in China, and Beijing is unlikely to hand over two of its citizens for prosecution in the U.S. The U.S. does not even have an extradition treaty with China.

Rosenstein said the Justice Department is working closely its counterparts in China, but he would not say whether authorities there had taken the men into custody or shut down their labs.

Still, he expressed hope that China would ramp up its efforts to help the U.S. crack down on fentanyl production.

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The case against Yan, 40, began in 2013 in Mississippi, where authorities uncovered a domestic drug ring selling synthetics, Rosenstein said. Investigators working the case ultimately traced the drugs back to Yan, who allegedly operated two chemical plans in China and websites selling fentanyl to Americans online, he said.

The case against Zhang, 38, began in North Dakota in 2015 following the overdose of a local 18-year-old. Rosenstein said investigators mapping out the distribution network traced the drugs through Oregon, Canada and eventually to Zhang in China.

Zhang’s organization would send fentanyl as well as pill presses, stamps and dies to U.S. customers through the mail, according to prosecutors.

Yan faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, if convicted. Zhang faces up to life in prison and a $12.5 million fine, if convicted.

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The Justice Department says that 21 people have been indicted on federal drug charges in North Dakota and Oregon as part of the investigation.

The cases are being investigated by a task force that includes the Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2017/10/17/558330881/justice-department-indicts-2-chinese-nationals-in-synthetic-opioid-case?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news



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