A Chinese court sentenced three fentanyl traffickers Thursday in a case that was a culmination of a rare collaboration between Chinese and U.S. law enforcement to crack down on global networks that manufacture and distribute lethal synthetic opioids.
Liu Yong was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, while Jiang Juhua and Wang Fengxi were sentenced to life in prison. Six other members of the operation got lesser sentences.
Working off a 2017 tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chinese police busted a drug ring based in the northern Chinese city of Xingtai that shipped synthetic drugs to the U.S. and other countries from a gritty clandestine laboratory. They arrested more than 20 criminal suspects and seized 11.9 kilograms (26.23 pounds) of fentanyl as well as 19.1 kilograms (42.11 pounds) of other drugs.
Liu had been accused of manufacturing and trafficking synthetic drugs from the lab in eastern China's Jiangsu province. Death sentences are almost always commuted to life in prison after the reprieve.
Austin Moore, an attaché to China for the U.S. Homeland Security Department, said the case was "an important step" showing that Chinese and U.S. investigators have the capacity to collaborate across international borders.
U.S. officials say China's vast chemicals industry is the main source of illicit fentanyl. Chinese officials deny that, blaming greedy pharmaceutical companies, lax regulation, and out-of-control demand as the reasons America has an opioid abuse crisis.