- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

U.S. and Chinese drug agents yesterday announced the largest cocaine seizure in Chinese history, saying they netted 300 pounds of Colombian cocaine and arrested nine suspects after a joint investigation.

The two-month undercover probe marked the first time Chinese and U.S. drug agents have worked together on an investigation.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said the cocaine originated in Colombia, where drug gangs are seeking to exploit new markets in Asia and expand a global distribution network. The cocaine was said to have a street value of about $13.5 million.

Mike Chapman, the DEA’s acting regional director for East Asia, said the joint investigation was a “good indicator we are making great strides in our cooperation with China.”

“Our exchange of information is improving all the time,” Mr. Chapman said in an interview. “This was a good, old-fashioned investigation that took the available information to the farthest extent it could go.”

Mr. Chapman said the DEA, which maintains a field office in China, thinks a strike against the profits of Colombian drug gangs anywhere in the world ultimately reduces their ability to operate in the United States.

“This case clearly shows the global aspect of the drug-trafficking business,” he said.

DEA agents assigned to field offices in Hong Kong and Beijing, operating under strict guidelines, assisted Chinese authorities by developing sources of information, working undercover and assisting in surveillance efforts that led to the arrests and seizures in March, officials said yesterday.

The agents had alerted Chinese authorities that a large shipment of cocaine had been delivered to southern China and that Colombia drug traffickers would seek buyers in Hong Kong and Zhongshan, an industrial city in the Pearl River delta in Guangdong province about 250 miles southwest of Hong Kong.

Liu Guangping, spokesman for the Customs General Administration of China, said that plastic-wrapped bricks of cocaine were found in Zhongshan.

A statement issued by Mr. Liu said the cocaine was first delivered to Zhuhai City in Guangdong province and later moved to a warehouse in Zhongshan. He said several suspected traffickers were placed under surveillance and arrested when they purportedly worked out a deal with a buyer in Hong Kong.

Those arrested were three Colombians, a Venezuelan, two Hong Kong residents and three mainland Chinese. No charges have been filed, but drug smuggling in China carries the death penalty.

Mr. Liu said investigators had discovered a clandestine laboratory, but declined to elaborate. Photos showed bottles of ethyl ether, a key ingredient in making crack cocaine.

Drug use in China has been escalating in recent years, said Rogene Waite, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington. “As more money comes into the Chinese economy, the market for drugs, unfortunately, grows concomitantly.”

The DEA operates 86 field offices in 57 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Officials said cooperation with foreign law-enforcement authorities is essential to the agency’s mission because drug trafficking syndicates bringing narcotics into the United States operate around the world.

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