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Biden admin announces criminal charges against Mexican cartel leaders over fentanyl smuggling

The Department of Justice announced a number of criminal charges and sanctions related to the production and smuggling of illicit fentanyl into the United States.

The Biden administration on Friday announced a slew of criminal charges against a top Mexican drug cartel involved in the smuggling of illicit fentanyl into the U.S., as well as announcing sanctions against those supplying precursors to those cartels from China, as the administration says it is cracking down on those responsible for the opioid crisis.

The Justice Department said that it has unsealed criminal charges against over two dozen defendants, including several leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel – a Mexican drug cartel responsible for much of the fentanyl trafficking into the U.S. Separately, the Treasury announced that it has sanctioned five people in China and Guatemala over fentanyl production and the movement of precursors into Mexico.

Fentanyl, which can be fatal even in small doses, has caused the deaths of over 70,000 Americans a year. It is often cut into other drugs or made into counterfeit pills, so users often do not realize what they are ingesting.

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The drug is primarily produced in Mexico by cartels using Chinese precursors and then shipped across the U.S. land border.

The DOJ said it had unsealed charges against 28 leaders and members of the Sinaloa Cartel, including sons of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, known as "Chapitos." The men are alleged to have "repeatedly and consistently" transported significant amounts of drugs, including fentanyl, into the U.S. 

The charges also allege that they maintained a network of couriers, tunnels and stash houses through Mexico and the U.S. and secured hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by flooding the U.S. with fentanyl.

"Today, the Justice Department is announcing significant enforcement actions against the largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world – run by the Sinaloa Cartel, and fueled by Chinese precursor chemical and pharmaceutical companies," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "Families and communities across our country are being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic. Today’s actions demonstrate the comprehensive approach the Justice Department is taking to disrupt fentanyl trafficking and save American lives."

Separately, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated entities in China and Guatemala for supplying precursors to cartels in Mexico from China. They include two companies in China and a Guatemalan-based broker who purchases the chemicals on behalf of the cartels.

MEXICAN PRESIDENT PLEADS FOR CHINESE HELP ON FENTANYL CRISIS, SLAMS ‘RUDE THREATS’ FROM US 

The action means that the companies and individuals’ property or interests, including money, in the U.S. is frozen and that Americans are now prohibited from dealing with them.

Officials have pointed to the moves as the latest in an aggressive all-of-government approach by the Biden administration to tackle the ongoing fentanyl epidemic.

"President Biden has been very clear, including in his State of the Union remarks, that addressing the national security and the public health threat posed by the flow of illicit fentanyl and other synthetic drugs is a priority of the highest order. And President Biden has repeatedly called for international cooperation to combat what is truly a global problem," a senior administration official said in a call with reporters.

The official said that the administration’s top priority is to map the network of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels, who are responsible for the smuggling of fentanyl into the U.S.

This week, the administration has pointed to its international cooperation and work with the private sector in cracking down on the fentanyl scourge. It has highlighted increased seizures at ports of entry and additional security actions it is taking.

Republicans have challenged the administration for not doing enough to stop the ongoing migrant crisis at the southern border, which they say enables the cartels to smuggle more fentanyl between ports of entry. The administration has pushed back, arguing that most fentanyl comes through the ports.

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Meanwhile, the government has faced mixed signals from Mexico. Garland told lawmakers earlier this year that Mexico could be doing more to stop the cartels, and efforts at international cooperation were dealt a blow when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador falsely claimed that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico.

Recently, he pleaded with China to do more to stop the shipments coming from Beijing, while also taking a swipe at "rude threats" from Republican lawmakers in the U.S.

"Unjustly, they are blaming us for problems that in large measure have to do with their loss of values, their welfare crisis," he fumed to Chinese President Xi Jinping. "These positions are in themselves a lack of respect and a threat to our sovereignty, and moreover they are based on an absurd, manipulative, propagandistic and demagogic attitude."

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