Authorities in the US last week froze the assets of a suspected Chinese drug lord believed to be behind shipments of thousands of kilograms of synthetic drugs and controlled substances worldwide.
Zhang Lei - also known as Eric Chang - was hit with sanctions by the US Treasury for using his Shanghai-based company, CEC Limited, to manufacture and sell "bath salts" and other synthetic psychoactive substances. Shipments to the US earned him about US$30 million, it said.
Highly addictive and potent, "bath salts" have been linked to cases of hyper aggression and hallucination. "Bath salts" were said by police to be behind a gruesome "zombie" attack in Miami in 2012, when a naked assailant bit off the face of a homeless man.
"Global synthetic drug suppliers like Zhang Lei have fuelled an epidemic of hospitalisations, paralysis and deaths," said Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury. "We intend to disrupt these networks' operation and deny them the ability to conduct international trade."
Zhang was arrested by police in China in November last year on charges of teaching criminal methods to others. His legal fate is not known.
He had been shipping illegal substances across the globe for more than a decade and his company was a supply source for synthetic drugs in the US and Europe, the Treasury said.
The move by the Treasury means all of Zhang's US assets are frozen and US citizens are prohibited from engaging in business with him.
In 2010, a British journalist for the Daily Mail posed as a buyer to infiltrate Zhang's Shanghai laboratory and was offered "new legal stuff for the UK".