Liu Yong was accused of running an illegal operation that produced fentanyl and shipped it to the United States, where people were able to order it online via a dealer known as “Diana.” The death sentence Liu received, however, was suspended for two years, meaning it could later be changed to life in prison. Eight other defendants were also convicted, all of whom received jail sentences ranging from six months to life in prison.
The investigation marked a rare instance of cooperation between the United States and China on the fentanyl and opioid epidemic. Much of the world’s fentanyl is believed to be made in China, and the drug had become a point of contention between the U.S. and China as fentanyl-related overdose deaths rose in the United States. President Donald Trump had also accused China of not doing enough to stop the drug from being trafficked to the United States.
The investigation began with a Drug Enforcement Administration arrest in New Orleans in August 2017 and eventually led to investigators uncovering a lab and two distribution centers in Shanghai and Jiangsu. Liu was accused of running the whole operation, and upon shutting it down, authorities reportedly seized about 26 pounds of fentanyl. The investigation reportedly also led to arrests and indictments in New York and Oregon.
In April, China officially banned all forms of fentanyl, following through on a promise President Xi Jinping had made to Trump last year. While China had already classified over two dozen forms of fentanyl and its precursors as controlled substances, prior to the change the law was vague enough that manufacturers in China were able to produce slightly different versions of the opioid that hadn’t already been banned.