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Nine jailed in China for smuggling fentanyl to US after landmark operation

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Nine people have been jailed in China for smuggling fentanyl into the US, after a landmark joint investigation by American and Chinese officers.

In August,┬áPresident Trump said┬áChina was not doing enough to stop fentanyl – which is 50 times more potent than heroin – being shipped to the US.

The Chinese court said it was the first time US and Chinese officers had worked together on such a case.

Mr Trump has claimed fentanyl kills “100,000 Americans a year”.

According to US authorities, the figure is likely to be lower. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2017 – the most recent full data available –┬ásynthetic opioids, other than methadone, were linked to 28,000 deaths.

Results of the joint operation were announced by Chinese and US authorities in the northern city of Xingtai.

One person was given a suspended death sentence, which normally means life in jail. Two others were given life sentences.

Although fentanyl is a prescription painkiller, it is often bought illegally.

It is relatively cheap and is frequently used by people unable to get drugs legally – either because the doctor won’t prescribe them, they don’t have the insurance policy, or because they have run out.

China has in the past used tax breaks to encourage fentanyl production, and President Trump has long accused China of being the source of his country’s problem.Skip Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

A year later, Mr Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping had promised to stop fentanyl reaching the US, but had not.

How did the operation work?

According to Austin Moore – a US immigration and customs attache in China – the operation began in August 2017, when Homeland Security officers in New Orleans interviewed a “co-operating defendant”.

The defendant provided the name and contact information for a dealer in China, known as “Diana”. The following month, the information was passed to Beijing.

Officers in New Orleans then organised a fake fentanyl purchase, culminating in a wire transfer payment to “Diana” in November 2017. This led to an “extraordinary” number of arrests in China, Mr Moore said.

As well as the Chinese prosecutions, the investigation led to “three major criminal arrests” in New York and Oregon.

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

Yu Haibin, a senior official with China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, told reporters in Xingtai it was vital to crack down on demand, as well as supply.

“If illegal demand cannot be effectively reduced, it is very difficult to fundamentally tackle the fentanyl issue,” he said, according to the AFP news agency.