"Xiaobing Yan, Jian Zhang and their respective associates represent one of the most significant drug threats facing the country - overseas organized crime groups capable of producing almost any synthetic drug imaginable, including fentanyl, and who attempt to hide their tracks with web-based sales, global shipments and cryptocurrency transactions", said DEA Acting Administrator Patterson.
According to the Department of Justice, one of the men ran two chemical plants in China that produced high quantities of fentanyl and similar drugs and the other man owned four labs in China doing the same thing.
"The U.S. has no extradition treating, but we're hopeful the Chinese will hold them accountable", he said. That report, however, involved legal prescription drugs that were illegally diverted.
Of the estimated 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, 20,000 are blamed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the charges against Xiaobing Yan, 40, and Jian Zhang, 38, represented the first-ever indictments brought against designated Chinese manufactures of fentanyl and other opiate substances.
"Chinese fentanyl distributors are using the Internet to sell fentanyl directly to USA customers", Rosenstein continued.
The indictment also charged Jian Zhang for manufacturing fentanyl in at least four laboratories in China, and selling it to US customers via the Internet.
The two men, identified as Jian Zhang and Xiaobing Yan, were indicted by grand juries in the Southern District of MS and the District of North Dakota for "separate conspiracies to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues into the United States". Rosenstein said investigators mapping out the distribution network traced the drugs through Oregon, Canada and eventually to Zhang in China.
"The defendants allegedly shipped massive quantities of deadly fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to communities throughout the United States, mostly purchased on the Internet and sent through the mail", Rosenstein said.
Zhang's charges relate to four people's deaths in New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota and OR in 2014 and 2015, and serious bodily injuries to five others, the DOJ said. At least 21 other people were also indicted on charges they trafficked the drugs across the US and Canada, often through the USA mail. Officials say American customers could purchase pure fentanyl and other unsafe drugs online, directly from Chinese factories.
The announcement comes as the Trump administration suffered a setback in its efforts to call attention to the nation's drug crisis. The chemicals allegedly killed and injured people in several states, and surely caused misery to many thousands of people.
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
Both suspects are believed to be in China, and Beijing is unlikely to hand over two of its citizens for prosecution in the USA, which does not have an extradition treaty with China.
He faces up to life in prison and more than $12 million in fines, if convicted.