(The Center Square) – Top prosecutors filed charges Friday against several Chinese companies and their executives for illicit fentanyl production, a new tactic to stem the flow of the powerful drug into the United States.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrest of two people and unsealed three indictments in New York charging China-based companies and their employees with crimes related to fentanyl production, distribution. and sales resulting from precursor chemicals.
“We have charged, for the first time ever, four chemical companies based in China and eight Chinese nationals for the trafficking of fentanyl precursor chemicals into the United States,” United States Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference. “These companies and their employees knowingly conspired to manufacture deadly fentanyl for distribution in the United States.”
U.S. authorities arrested two of the eight Chinese nationals.
Prosecutors said the companies took steps to disguise the precursor chemicals at the molecular level and provided instructions to recipients on how to change the chemicals back upon arrival.
“They add what are known as masking molecules to their fentanyl precursor chemicals,” Garland said. “Once these masking molecules are added, the chemical signature of the precursor is changed. That means when it is shipped, it appears to be a new, non-fentanyl precursor substance.”
When the companies’ clients received the products, the companies provided instructions for the buyer to easily change it back into the fentanyl precursor, Garland said.
“The Justice Department will not rest or relent in investigating and prosecuting every link of the fentanyl supply chain, including the [People’s Republic of China] companies and executives who produce and export vast quantities of the precursor chemicals the drug cartels need to peddle their poison,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at the news conference. “There can be no safe haven.”
In the Southern District of New York, prosecutors charged the China-based chemical company Hubei Amarvel Biotech Co. Ltd., which is also known as AmarvelBio, and its executives and employees Qingzhou Wang, 35; Yiyi Chen, 31; and Fnu Lnu with fentanyl trafficking, precursor chemical importation, and money laundering offenses.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency arrested Wang and Chen after they were expelled from Fiji on June 8, officials said.
Wang and Chen were detained in Honolulu and will appear in Manhattan federal court when they get to New York. Yang remained at large as of Friday afternoon.
Amarvel Biotech, a chemical manufacturer based in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, China, exported precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl and its analogues, according to the indictment and court records. The company advertised online and targeted customers in Mexico and guaranteed “100% stealth shipping,” according to court records.
Two indictments were unsealed in the Eastern District of New York that alleged criminal conspiracies by companies and employees based in China to make and distribute fentanyl in the United States.
The first charged Anhui Rencheng Technology Co. Ltd.; Anhui Moker New Material Technology Co.; Shutong Wang; and Shifang Ruan, aka Eva, with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute fentanyl, manufacture of fentanyl, and other related offenses.
The second indictment charged Hefei GSK Trade Co. Ltd, aka Hebei Gesuke Trading Co. Ltd. and Hebei Sinaloa Trading Co. Ltd.; and Ruiqing Li with similar offenses.
“Today, we target the very beginning of the fentanyl supply chain: the Chinese manufacturers of the raw chemicals used to make fentanyl and its analogues,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York said at a news conference. “We’ve charged a Chinese precursor chemical company. And that’s not all. We’ve charged and arrested some of the individuals who work at the company. That includes a corporate executive and a marketing manager. They’re in American handcuffs. And they’re going to face justice in an American courtroom.”