China on Thursday jailed nine people for selling fentanyl to Americans, the result of a landmark joint probe, following Donald Trump’s fury at Beijing for its perceived inaction against Chinese suppliers fuelling the deadly opioid crisis in the United States.
The United States has long accused China of being the main source of the highly addictive drug, with President Trump charging in August that Beijing had reneged on its promise to crack down on fentanyl.
The sentencing came as the global powers are seeking to finalise a trade deal following more than a year of bruising negotiations, with the flood of Chinese fentanyl one of the sticking points.
US authorities say the synthetic opioid kills more than 100 deaths a day in the United States.
The court in northern Hebei province described the case as the first successful joint US-Chinese probe related to fentanyl smuggling, and US officials also hailed the verdict.
“As the success of the joint investigation demonstrates, Chinese and American investigators have the capacity to collaborate across international borders,” Austin Moore, an attache for the US Homeland Security Department in China, said at a press conference with Chinese officials following the sentencing.
China’s narcotics bureau discovered in 2017 a criminal ring based in Shanghai and eastern Jiangsu province and seized 11.9 kilogrammes of fentanyl, acting on a tip-off from US border authorities, according to the court.
Of the nine people jailed in Hebei, one was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, which generally means a life term.
Two others received life terms for trafficking fentanyl and alprazolam -– the hugely popular prescription anxiety drug branded as Xanax.
The nine defendants were brought in surrounded by guards and stood facing court officials to hear their sentences read.
The three defendants with the toughest sentences were “lured by high profit and huge demand” from US buyers, the Xingtai Intermediate People’s Court said.
In November 2016, two of the defendants began advertising drugs through the internet using companies they had registered for pharmaceutical sales operations, the court said in a statement.