China again under the scanner in US. Not for substandard products. But for apparently playing a key role in trafficking in performance enhancing drugs.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said Monday that 124 people had been arrested across the country over the past four days in the crackdown named Operation Raw Deal.
The operation started with more than 30 Chinese companies, which were shipping raw materials needed to make steroids and human growth hormone to manufacturers and labs in the United States and nine other countries.
Since Thursday, the federal government has raided 56 sites in the United States and seized 242 kilograms of steroid and 1.4 million steroid dosage units.
The facilities in which the drugs were manufactured ranged from the basements of homes, to garages, bathrooms and medical laboratories, authorities said.
No names of athletes have been linked to the investigation yet, Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the DEA, said in a telephone interview, but thousands of e-mails connecting users to the manufacturers had been seized.
Although the government has not gone through the trove of information connecting users to the steroid ring, Payne said: "We have the ability to identify individual customers, and that should send chills down the spines of athletes and high school and college students who were buying from these manufacturers. We can find you, based on our data base."
Payne said Chinese authorities were cooperating with the investigation. "Rather than publicly name and indict these companies in China, we thought it would be more effective to work with Chinese law enforcement partners and provide them with information so they could go after the companies, which includes as many as 37, that were shipping raw materials," he said. "They have agreed to move forward with their investigation in China.
"There are a lot of sensitive things that go into dealing with a nation like China. We are pleased so far they have done everything we have asked them to, they have agreed to accept the reports and move forward and that is unprecedented."
Payne said the World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Anti-Doping Agency had been partners in the investigation, which has spanned 18-months.
Operation Raw Deal followed on the heels of an investigation in 2005 that targeted eight Mexican steroid manufacturers. After those manufacturers, which authorities said provided four out of every five steroid pills in the world, were shut down, a void was created in the market for performance-enhancing drugs that Chinese companies filled.
"Operation Raw Deal uncovered a clandestine web of international drug dealers who lurk on the Internet for young adults craving the artificial advantage of anabolic steroids," Karen P. Tandy, the administrator for the DEA said in press release. "Today we reveal the truth behind the underground steroid market: dangerous drugs cooked up all too often in filthy conditions with no regard to safety, giving Americans who purchase them the ultimate raw deal."
It went on to say that many of the labs it raided "were extremely unsanitary, further illustrating the danger in buying these products illegally. For example, recent lab seizures uncovered huge amounts of raw materials being mixed in bathtubs and bathroom sinks."
The other countries cooperating with the investigation include: Mexico, Canada, China, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Thailand.
The investigation, authorities said, was focused on many United States-based Web sites that sold "conversion kits," which could be used to convert raw steroid powders into a finished product. Investigators also targeted Internet discussion boards where users learned "how to illicitly use, locate and discreetly purchase performance enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids. Many of the underground steroids labs targeted in this case advertise and are endorsed on these message boards."