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US indicts 4 Chinese companies for trafficking fentanyl ingredients

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The US government has charged four Chinese companies and eight Chinese individuals with trafficking in chemicals used in manufacturing fentanyl, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday.

Two of the eight have been arrested as the US Justice Department intensifies its crackdown on the synthetic opioid responsible for hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths in the past decade.

It was the first time the United States has charged Chinese companies for trafficking fentanyl precursor chemicals inside the United States, rather than shipping them to Mexico, the origin of most of the fentanyl found in the country.

The announcement came just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing, where he met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“These companies and their employees knowingly conspired to manufacture deadly fentanyl for distribution in the United States,” Garland said.

“Just one of these China-based chemical companies shipped more than 200 kilograms of fentanyl-related precursor chemicals to the US for the purpose of making 50 kilograms of fentanyl, a quantity that could contain enough deadly doses of fentanyl to kill 25 million Americans,” said Garland.

Charged in three separate cases filed in federal court in New York were Hubei Amarvel Biotech, Anhui Rencheng Technology, Anhui Moker New Material Technology and Hefei GSK Trade.

The eight individuals charged included executives and employees of the four companies.

The two people arrested, both employees of Hubei Amarvel, were taken into custody by US officials and held in Honolulu, Hawaii after they were expelled from Fiji on June 8.

Although Mexico has been the main source of fentanyl sold in the United States, Washington has increasingly focused its attention on the Mexicans’ suppliers in China.


– Pressuring Beijing –


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin and much easier and cheaper to produce.

It has largely replaced heroin and prescription opioids like oxycodone as a cause of overdoses. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 110,000 Americans died from overdoses last year.

Fentanyl has become the leading cause of death for Americans between 18 and 49 years old.

In Indiana on Friday US officials announced charges against 19 people involved in trafficking fentanyl.

Over the past year the US Treasury has imposed sanctions on several Chinese chemical companies and individuals for supplying fentanyl ingredients to Mexican drug producers and traffickers.

“The two drug cartels that are responsible for the influx of fentanyl into the United States, the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, work with chemical companies based in the People’s Republic of China to get their raw materials,” said US Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Anne Milgram.

The issue has become an important one in the tense relations between Washington and Beijing, and  Blinken raised during his visit to China.

Before Blinken’s trip, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said Beijing was not doing enough on the problem.

“We have been pushing very hard that the government of China use its considerable power to shut down the ability of these black-market Chinese firms to sell the fentanyl,” Burns said.


– Helping with recipes –


The indictments unveiled Friday said the Chinese companies and their employees were consciously selling their chemicals for fentanyl production, helping with recipes for the drug and offering newly refined chemicals that would help boost production of the opioid.

One of the companies, Hubei Amarvel, openly boasted on its website of selling fentanyl chemicals to the United States and Mexico, one of the indictments said.

Hubei Amarvel also offered documentation on its website showing it shipped chemicals to Culiacan, the base of the Sinaloa Cartel, it said.

Blinken, the top US diplomat, announced Friday plans to host a virtual international conference on the threat of synthetic drugs on July 7.

“The United States has been the canary in the coalmine when it comes to synthetic opioids,” he said ¬†in a statement. “But we see this problem spreading, including especially in our own hemisphere.”

About the author


Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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