Chinese National Sentenced for Aiding Drug Traffickers

Second conspirator pleads guilty to money laundering charges

Tablets believed to be laced with fentanyl are displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019, in New York. - Getty Images
August 4, 2021

A U.S. federal court sentenced a Chinese national to seven years in prison for his role in an international drug trafficking scheme.

Tao Liu, a Hong Kong resident, helped launder large sums of illicit cash for drug traffickers, including the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Liu also attempted to bribe an undercover DEA agent whom he believed to be a corrupt Department of State official to obtain passports. 

A second defendant, American citizen and Chinese national Xizhi Li, led the scheme over several years, using a foreign casino and other front companies to launder cash. Li pleaded guilty to his own charges on Monday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Kenneth Polite, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the defendants in question were part of a massive illicit drug and financial network spanning the world. 

"The defendants laundered millions of dollars on behalf of drug traffickers through the global financial system in a manner that concealed the source and nature of the illicit funds," Polite said. "Global money-laundering networks enable drug cartels to profit from their deadly trade, and yesterday’s guilty plea and today’s sentence underscore the Justice Department’s commitment to dismantling the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organizations to take the profit out of crime."

Court proceedings against the Chinese traffickers also highlight a major channel through which the global drug trade targets the United States. China is one of the world’s largest exporters of fentanyl, with a 2020 DEA report naming the country America’s "primary source" of the lethal substance. More than 69,000 overdose deaths due to opioids—the majority of which came from illegal fentanyl—occurred in 2020 alone.

Arizona attorney general and Senate candidate Mark Brnovich (R.) said in July that drug trafficking from China and Mexico is reaching "devastating" levels.

"China and Mexican drug cartels are making money off the misery of the American people," Brnovich said. "It’s something that’s affecting literally tens of thousands of American lives."