US targets Chinese fentanyl 'kingpin' with sanctions

Firefighters in hazmat protection remove items from a vehicle in which several drug overdose victims were found, in addition to a powder believed to be fentanyl, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, US, Aug 4, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Treasury on Friday (April 27) named an alleged Chinese fentanyl supplier as a major global trafficker, taking aim at one of the drug networks behind a rising number of overdose deaths.

It designated Zhang Jian, of Shanghai, as a top trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, allowing it to go after his financial interests around the world.

Zhang was already indicted last October as part of a joint US-Chinese law enforcement investigation into trade in fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that causes a rising share of the 60,000-plus annual overdose deaths in the United States.

Four other Chinese were also hit with sanctions in Friday's announcement. All remain at large.

The Justice Department says those sanctioned were part of Zhang's organisation, which supplied a US and Canada distribution network.

far 32 people have been charged in the investigation.

"This was an elaborate and sophisticated conspiracy. They used the internet, about 30 different aliases, cryptocurrency, off-shore accounts, encrypted communications, and they allegedly laundered funds internationally through third parties," Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said on Friday in a speech in North Dakota, where a 2015 overdose death sparked the investigation into the Zhang network.

Sessions said most of the fentanyl distributed in the United States comes from China, and is shipped either through the mail or smuggled across the southern border.

He said the Chinese had cooperated with US investigators in the case, adding: "I hope that cooperation will grow in the future. The fact is that we must have more help, and as trading partners, we have a right to expect it."

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