China: Around The Nation

Former chemistry professor sentenced to life for making and exporting narcotics

Another Chinese ‘Walter White’ pocketed millions of yuan each year for a decade with underground drugs lab whose customers paid with Bitcoins

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 6:40pm

A Chinese chemistry professor was sentenced to life behind bars on Thursday for his role in a multi-million dollar drug making scheme that drew comparisons with hit United States television show Breaking Bad.

The convicted chemist, surnamed Zhang, and his partner, surnamed Yang, made more than 4 million yuan (HK$4.5 million or US$581,142) each year for almost a decade manufacturing narcotics sold over the internet to customers in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Yang was handed a death sentence suspended for two years.

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Zhang has been dubbed China’s real-life Walter White by mainland media, due to his likeness with Breaking Bad’s protagonist who swaps a career as a talented but struggling chemistry teacher for a life of manufacturing methamphetamine and drug dealing.

Zhang first learned of the popularity of psychoactive drugs while teaching in Australia as a visiting academic.

In 2005, he started a company that purported to make medical coatings and solvents. In fact, he and his staff were manufacturing “hundreds of kilograms” of methylone, a commonly used substitute for MDMA or ecstasy.

The drug was sent to overseas buyers using pseudonyms, and buyers could pay with Bitcoin, Xinhua reported.

Zhang’s team tried to create a substitute for the drug when methylone was added to China’s list of controlled substances in 2014, but failed and continued with their illegal scheme.

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Wuhan customs officers found a suspicious white powder in the overseas-bound parcels in November 2014, and Zhang and three others were arrested in June the following year.

China has seen as surge in recent years in the use of synthetic drugs, which can be created in labs from fairly common industrial chemicals.

Zhang is not the first scientist-turned-drug dealer to draw comparisons with Breaking Bad.

Chemistry graduate Wang Bo, 33, from Huanggang, Hubei province, was arrested last year after allegedly manufacturing and selling up to 630kg of psychoactive substances overseas.

In 2015, a secondary school teacher surnamed Lu was arrested after he became addicted to drugs and transformed his basement into a clandestine methamphetamine lair.