XINGTAI, China — A court in China convicted and sentenced to death on Thursday a man accused of trafficking fentanyl to the United States after a joint investigation with American law enforcement agencies.
The case, involving nine defendants in all, was a rare example of cooperation against a surge in fentanyl-related deaths that American officials, including President Trump, have blamed directly on China’s lax enforcement and even complicity in fueling a drug epidemic on American streets.
The man sentenced to death, Wang Fengxi, led an illicit network of labs that produced and shipped packages of fentanyl to American users who were able to place orders online through a dealer simply known as “Diana,” according to the Chinese and American officials.
A judge here in Xingtai, a city in Hebei Province about 220 miles south of Beijing, sentenced Mr. Wang to death after detailing a broad conspiracy to manufacture and smuggle fentanyl that evaded China’s strict controls on pharmaceutical production.
But Mr. Wang’s death sentence was suspended for two years, leaving open the possibility that it could later be commuted to life in prison. Eight other co-defendants were also sentenced on Thursday, including distributors and online sellers. They received sentences ranging from six months in prison to life.
The case started with an arrest by the Drug Enforcement Administration in New Orleans in August 2017, leading to an international investigation into a sprawling underground production network that prosecutors said Mr. Wang orchestrated.
The network included one lab and two distribution centers in Shanghai and the neighboring province, Jiangsu. They were shut down, and 12 kilograms, or about 26 pounds, of fentanyl was seized as part of the investigation, according to the officials and the court’s ruling.
China’s failure to crack down on fentanyl production is one of many sticking points in its fraying relations with the United States, and the sentences come as Chinese negotiators have been trying to hammer out a trade deal with the American government.
“The successful outcome of this case, especially the heavy sentences to the main criminals and others, fully demonstrates the position and determination of the Chinese government to severely punish fentanyl-related crimes,” Yu Haibin, the deputy director of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, said at a news conference in Xingtai following the court’s sentencing hearing.
He was joined by diplomats from the United States Embassy, underscoring China’s eagerness to show it was cooperating with American law enforcement to combat the fentanyl scourge. Many officials in the United States have accused China of abetting the trade.
The case on Thursday was the first fentanyl-related case to conclude, Mr. Yu said. Two other cases are still ongoing.
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