On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced eight indictments against companies based in China and their employees, who are believed to be connected to the production and distribution of fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
The DOJ’s brief also indicates that these companies may have used crypto to manage the finances related to their suspected illicit activities.
In tandem with the DOJ’s actions, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has placed sanctions on 28 entities and individuals involved and pinpointed 16 crypto wallets believed to be associated with the indicted parties.
Justice Department Announces Eight Indictments Against China-Based Chemical Manufacturing Companies and Employeeshttps://t.co/f37okHaa6z
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) October 3, 2023
OFAC flagged Hanhong Pharmaceutical Technology, Hebei Crovell Biotech, and several individuals holding crypto assets, including, , USD Coin, , and , for suspected unlawful activities.
“We have identified and blocked over a dozen virtual currency wallets associated with these actors,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a press conference. “The blocked wallets, which received millions of USD funds over hundreds of deposits, illustrate the scope and scale of the operation targeted today.”
Crypto and the drug trade
Today’s actions aren’t the first time that cryptocurrencies have been found among the criminal drug trade. The recurring connection has sparked calls among politicians for action.
Last June, Elizabeth Warren, the U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, raised concerns about the use of crypto in funding the fentanyl trade, prompting her to call for more stringent regulation of the industry.
“This group sold enough precursor drugs in exchange for crypto to produce $540 billion worth of fentanyl pills,” she said during a hearing at the Senate Banking Committee. “That is enough fentanyl to kill nearly 9 billion people, all paid for by crypto.”
Last year, fentanyl was estimated to have caused more than 67,000 deaths in the United States alone.
A dose as small as two milligrams can kill a grown adult, according to the Justice Department.