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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

U.S. charges Chinese companies, executives with fentanyl crimes

By Nick Miroff Washington Post

U.S. officials announced criminal charges Tuesday against eight Chinese companies and 12 of their executives accused of supplying precursor chemicals for the illegal manufacture of fentanyl, methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.

The charges were the second major set of indictments the Biden administration has unsealed since June accusing companies in China with supplying Mexican drug cartels and fueling a U.S. overdose epidemic that is killing more than 100,000 Americans a year. Most of the deaths have been linked to fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 50 times as potent as heroin.

Undercover U.S. agents ordered the chemicals from online sellers in China who openly advertised their ability to skirt U.S. detection by using fake shipping labels and deceptive delivery procedures, U.S. officials said.

“We know who is responsible for poisoning the American people with fentanyl,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a Justice Department news briefing describing the charges, adding, “And we know that this global fentanyl supply chain, which ends with the deaths of Americans, often starts with chemical companies in China.”

Garland said he will travel to Mexico City on Wednesday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss fentanyl and anti-narcotics cooperation with Mexican officials and military commanders.

The fentanyl crisis has become the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, and a growing public outcry has added more strains to U.S.-China relations.

One alleged supplier in China offering to ship chemicals to Mexico asked an undercover U.S. agent, “Do they need fent?” – using an abbreviation for the drug – and said that “all Mexico customers buy it,” according to Garland.

The shipper sent 43 kilograms of precursor chemicals, enough to manufacture 15 million doses of fentanyl, the attorney general saidBiden administration officials did not say whether any of the individuals, who were charged in the Middle and Southern districts of Florida, are in U.S. custody. The Chinese government did not assist in the investigation, officials said.

Treasury Department officials separately announced sanctions on 28 individuals and entities allegedly involved in the global trafficking of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer often mixed with fentanyl, as well as another form of synthetic opioids known as “nitazenes.”

Homeland Security Investigations agents have infiltrated Chinese chemical companies selling precursor chemicals to the Mexican criminal groups who manufacture the drugs and smuggle them into the United States, Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas acknowledged that the flow of fentanyl across the southern border is “not abating.” U.S. border authorities seized more than 27,000 pounds of the drug during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, he said, nearly double the amount they detected during the same 2022 period.

The volume of seizures along the southern border is viewed by U.S. agents as an indication of abundant supplies as much as their effectiveness at intercepting shipments. Fentanyl is extremely cheap to manufacture, and many of the precursor chemicals used to make it have industrial or agricultural purposes, an additional challenge for U.S. authorities trying to choke off supplies.

The low price of illegal fentanyl tablets on U.S. streets is another worrisome supply indicator. The pills, known as blues, are manufactured to resemble U.S. prescription pain pills and now sell for less than $1 in some U.S. cities, officials say. Each tablet contains a potentially fatal amount of fentanyl.

“A deadly dose costs mere cents,” said Anne Milgram, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, adding, “The amount of deadly drugs that can be made is unlimited.”