The US took one of its biggest steps yet against the global fentanyl trade on Tuesday, unsealing a series of indictments and sanctioning more than two dozen entities allegedly connected to networks bringing the drug to America.
The Justice Department indicted eight companies based in China and their employees over crimes related to fentanyl and narcotics production and distribution.
The indictments were unsealed in two Florida districts and accuse the named defendants of advertising their ability to evade US customs and deliver chemicals used to make fentanyl in the southern state and elsewhere in the US. They are also accused of using fake shipping labels and undertaking delivery procedures to ensure the contents went undetected.
The Chinese companies delivered a stable supply of chemicals to clients in Mexico for years, the Justice Department US said.
Mexico and China are the primary source countries for fentanyl sold in the US, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The DEA said it has seized more than 62.4 million fentanyl pills and more than 4,400kg of fentanyl powder this year.
“We are bringing accountability to ruthless organisations and individuals resident in the People’s Republic of China and to the cartel members that seek to profit from the death and destruction that fentanyl causes,” Homeland Security Secretary Antonio Mayorkas said in a statement.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said that Washington was aware that the fentanyl supply chain “often starts with chemical companies in China”.
Mr Garland and other department leaders across Washington outlined the administration's latest actions against the fentanyl trade.
“The reason I am here today is to send a crystal-clear signal to those whose line of work involves trafficking a product that robs Americans of their lives, and that robs children from their parents and parents from their children all over our country,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in prepared remarks at the Justice Department.
As part of Tuesday's actions, the Treasury Department sanctioned 12 businesses and 13 people in China, including a Chinese-based network allegedly responsible for the production and distribution of fentanyl.
“In addition to the actions we are taking today, I have asked my colleagues at Treasury to expand our targeting approach to include the friends, family members, and affiliates of criminals that benefit from the sale of these drugs. If you benefit from the proceeds of this illicit activity, we are going to come after your assets,” Mr Adeyemo said.
The Treasury has ramped up actions against the fentanyl trade this year. In May, the department announced sanctions on China- and Mexico-based people and companies believed to be involved in the distribution of equipment to create illicit drugs.