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Two Chinese nationals have been indicted in an international drug trafficking investigation. The two Chinese men who were indicted include 38 year old Jian Zhang and 40 year old Xiaobing Yan. Both men were indicted on charges of trafficking fentanyl into the United States. Law enforcement claims that the two men had made transactions on the darknet to American and Canadian customers. Law enforcement claims the men operated four illegal chemistry laboratories in China, and that they accepted Bitcoin for the orders of fentanyl. Two people in Florida, a person from New Jersey, and five Canadian citizens were also implicated in trafficking Zhang and Yan’s fentanyl.
The fentanyl that Zhang and Yan are alleged to have produced and distributed is responsible for four overdoses in Oregon, one of which was a fatal overdose. Three residents of Portland, Oregon were also charged by federal law enforcement agents for distributing the Chinese fentanyl. The three Oregonians who were charged include 30 year old Channing Lacey, 25 year old Carissa Marie Laprall, and 41 year old Steven Fairbanks Locke. “This case highlights both the international scope of the problem and the willingness and ability of our two districts to work together to reach out across borders to shut down and prosecute these merchants of death – I am proud of the work our team has done,” federal prosecutor Billy Williams said in a statement.
The Department of Justice claims that Yan sold fentanyl to more than 100 distributors. Their fentanyl was distributed through darknet marketplaces and street dealers to users all over North America. Officials with the Department of Justice said that the two Chinese men were “among the most prolific international drug traffickers and money launderers.” The two men were placed on the multi-agency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s list of consolidated priority organization targets, becoming the first Chinese laboratory operators to be put on that list.
It is not known if the two Chinese men or their four chemical laboratories face any legal problems in their native country. “We’re seeking additional support from the Chinese government in cracking down on those labs. … If it were the other way around, and tens of thousands of Chinese nationals were dying as a result of poisons shipped from the United States, we’d be very proactive. So we’re hoping to get the same kind of response from there,” United States Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said during a press conference. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that he was optimistic that Chinese officials would take action against the two men.
Rosenstein stated that he had recently travelled to China and spoke with the Chinese Minister of Public Security about the issue of fentanyl crimes. “They are, in fact, helping us, but we need them to do more,” Rosenstein said to reporters regarding Chinese law enforcement’s cooperation in stopping the fentanyl trade. While a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) does exist between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. It remains to be seen if Zhang and Yan will ever face extradition to the United States or Canada.
The investigation into Zhang began when 18 year old Bailey Henke of Grand Rapids, North Dakota fatally overdosed in early 2015 on fentanyl that is alleged to have originated in the laboratories of Zhang and Yan. The investigation into Yan began during a traffic stop in Mississippi that occurred in 2013, which led law enforcement officials to busting a bath salts trafficking ring which was allegedly supplied by Yan’s laboratories. The fentanyl that Henke had fatally overdosed on was traced to vendors in Oregon. The vendors in Oregon led law enforcement to vendors in Canada, who then led law enforcement officials back to the Chinese laboratories of Zhang and Yan. The pair are said to have operated for at least six years. Aside from the overdose deaths in Oregon and North Dakota, the drugs Zhang and Yan produced and distributed were also said to have caused the deaths of people in North Carolina and New Jersey.