The US Treasury Department on Tuesday announced financial sanctions against a Chinese national for allegedly funnelling fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, to the United States.
The individual, identified as 32-year-old Zhang Taotao, masked the origin of the goods by shipping through multiple individuals and freight-forwarding services, said the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
As well as Zhang, who was designated a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker”, OFAC also imposed sanctions on a Hong Kong-based company that he is suspected to have used as a front to conduct financial transactions.
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The designations will result in the freezing of all US-based assets and interests held by Zhang and his company, Allyrise Technology Group. Such sanctions also generally mean that all individuals and entities based in the US are prohibited from dealing with the designated subjects.
Calling Zhang “one of the most significant drug traffickers in the world,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Tuesday’s actions as part of a “whole-of-government effort” to combat the production and trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids from China.
Fentanyl, a substance some 50 times more powerful than heroin, has fuelled a public health crisis in the US, where it kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. US officials believe that much of the fentanyl in circulation in the US has either arrived directly from China or is constituted of precursor chemicals produced in the country.
US-based distributors can convert one kilogram of fentanyl into up to 1 million counterfeit pharmaceutical pills for sale to domestic customers, according to OFAC.
Zhang was described by OFAC as a “chemist and a chemical supplier”, and is associated with two addresses, one in Shanghai and another in Hong Kong. He was described as Allyrise Technology Group’s “director”.
According to Hong Kong company records, Allyrise Technology Group is no longer registered in the city, having been dissolved last November after six years in operation.
Though authorities gave no indication of how they had identified Zhang as a suspected source for the synthetic opioids, OFAC said it had coordinated the action with prosecutors and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials in New Jersey, suggesting that some shipments may have either passed through or ended up in the state, which is home to a major shipping hub.
“Illicit fentanyl has been a plague in New Jersey for the last several years,” Susan Gibson, head of the DEA’s New Jersey division, said in a statement. “The men and women of the DEA will continue to pursue those seeking to flood our communities with this poison, and these sanctions will help in that effort.”
The fentanyl trade is difficult to regulate in part because of the high number of chemical variations – known as “analogues” – of the drug that exist.
Under pressure from the US administration, Beijing moved last spring to schedule all fentanyl analogues as controlled substances.
Also on Tuesday, Pompeo called for further collaboration with China over the crackdown, and suggested that the government there had not done enough to stem domestic production of the chemical.
“The United States continues to seek cooperation with the [People’s Republic of China] to tackle this supply chain threat and calls on the PRC government to accelerate efforts to regulate its chemical industry and reduce the diversion of precursors into the international black market,” he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- US sanctions Chinese entity and individuals over ‘human rights abuses’ against Uygurs in Xinjiang, using Global Magnitsky Act
- Chinese importers buying up computing chips before US sanctions shut Hong Kong route
- New US sanctions on 33 Chinese firms and institutions to take effect on June 5
- Death sentence for fentanyl trafficker in China after tip-off from the United States
This article US sanctions Chinese national over suspected fentanyl trafficking first appeared on South China Morning Post