China gives suspended death sentence to fentanyl smuggler in joint U.S. probe

Police stand guard outside the Xingtai Intermediate People’s court in Xingtai China Thursday Nov. 7 2019. A Chinese court sentenced three fentanyl traffickers Thursday in a case that was a culmination of a rare collaboration between Chinese and U.S

The flashy sentencing comes as the two countries strive to negotiate a deal to at least partially resolve a tit-for-tat tariffs war that's now into its second year and has caused economic losses on both sides.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that USA authorities blame for more than 100 deaths per day in the United States.

The court in northern Hebei province described the case as the first successful joint probe related to fentanyl smuggling.

Although China has publicly denied being the main source of illicit fentanyl flow to the U.S., it has made broad concessions on an issue that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro considers one of China's "seven deadly sins" that the country must address in any trade deal.

US officials say China's vast chemicals industry is the main source of illicit fentanyl.

China sentenced three nationals to maximum punishments for smuggling fentanyl to the US, 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.

Police stand guard outside the Xingtai Intermediate People's court in Xingtai, China's Hebei province, on November 7, 2019.

"As the success of this joint investigation demonstrates, Chinese and American investigators have the capacity to collaborate across global borders", Mr Moore said.

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

Moore said officers in New Orleans obtained in August 2017 the contact details of a supplier in China known as "Diana". Those leads prompted over 25 domestic investigations and have already resulted in three major criminal arrests and indictments in NY and OR, he said.

In May, China began to designate all fentanyl analogs as controlled substances in an effort to avoid it.

The two countries have since pledged to work together to fight the proliferation of the drug, although Beijing has rejected responsibility for the U.S. addiction crisis. "This shows that China is not the source of the problem", said Yu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2017 - the most recent full data available - synthetic opioids, other than methadone, were linked to 28,000 deaths.

Yu Haibin, from China's National Narcotics Control Commission, said at the press conference that Beijing had maintained close communication with U.S. authorities.

Jim Carroll, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the arrests were a "positive step". The Chinese government followed up with a statement that touted "China's willingness to sincerely and concretely cooperate" with the United States on drug enforcement.

But experts warned much more work was needed to stamp out the drug trade to the US. Large amounts are often smuggled through Mexico, though Americans can also buy the drug online direct from Chinese labs, which then ship the product to the customer.

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