Breaking Bad: chemistry prof used university lab, students, to operate “one-stop test shop” for Taiwanese drug syndicate

An assistant professor and post-doctoral researcher has been prosecuted for using a university chemistry laboratory with advanced equipment, and having students unknowingly assist in testing imported and locally manufactured illicit drugs for purity, on behalf of a Taiwanese narcotrafficker.

Zhang Enming (張恩銘), 44, was charged by the Taipei District Prosecutor’s Office for manufacturing category 3 drugs and other crimes following an investigation into a drug manufacturing operation uncovered in Yilan County in early 2021.

According to reports, Zhang, a former postdoctoral researcher the the Genomic Research Center at Academia Sinica, was involved with a cleaning detergent business in China, and became indebted for the amount of RMB400,000 (NT$1.82 million).

Information about the debt was passed on to the head of a Taiwanese drug syndicate, Xiao Guangzhe, who then approached Zhang, and suggested he help with testing drug purity to help pay off his debt.

At the price of NT$3,000 to NT$10,000 per batch, Zhang used cutting-edge laboratory equipment at the Department of Chemistry at National Cheng Kung University to test the purity of imported and locally-manufactured illicit drugs.

Telling his students and other faculty members that the substances being tested were ingredients for cosmetic lotions, Zhang even had students assist with the testing process.

Zhang used the laboratory’s High Magnetic Field Superconducting Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer to test raw materials and drug ingredients to improve research and development for the production of illicit drugs at underground drug manufacturing operations at various locations around Taiwan.

High magnetic field 700MHz superconducting NMR instrument Superconducting FT NMR Spectrometer AVANCE III HD 700 MHz at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan City, Taiwan. Picture: NCKU.

After an illicit drug manufacturing operation producing mephedrone (meow meow) was busted in Yilan County early last year, an investigation into communication records of those involved, revealed the connection and role of Zhang. Investigators then went to the Tainan campus of National Cheng Kung University to inspect equipment and interview students and faculty members.

Graduate students who had assisted Zhang with testing solutions complained that liquids brought for analysis often emitted a stench, but Zhang insisted that they were ingredients for cosmetic solutions that required inspection.

Based on physical evidence and that provided by witnesses, prosecutors determined that Zhang used his chemistry expertise to make petty profits with a one-stop drug production and trafficking testing process for the drug manufacturing group and this seriously endangered society. Zhang was prosecuted for the crime of manufacturing category 3 drugs according to the “Regulations on the Prevention of Drug Hazards”, and prosecutors requested the court impose a heavy sentence.

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