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Police arrest five Chinese nationals in Paris on suspicion of blowing scopolamine, a powerful "hypnotic" drug, into strangers' faces" that deprives them of free will
Five Chinese nationals have been arrested on suspicion of using a powerful Colombian drug dubbed "the devil’s breath" that turns victims into willing “zombies”– in the second sting operation in Paris in weeks.
The gang of five was arrested in Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport last Friday and were found to be carrying €75,000 (£55,000) and $16,500 in cash along with a thermos stuffed full of precious jewellery of an unknown value.
Police believe the valuables were stolen from dozens of victims who were sprayed with scopolamine, a hazardous drug extracted from a South American tree related to deadly nightshade, which deprives people of free will. In strong doses it is lethal.
The Soviets and the CIA reportedly experimented using it as a truth serum during the Cold War, while Joseph Mengeles, the Nazi physician dubbed the Angel of Death, had it imported from Colombia to use in interrogations. However, because of the drug’s chemical make-up, it also induces powerful hallucinations.
Under surveillance for several days, the five were about to board a plane for China’s Guangdong province.
During questioning, all denied using the dangerous drug and insisted they were “simple Chinese tourists who were asking people for the way”, police source told France Info radio. Most of their alleged victims, mainly old, said they were approached by young Chinese woman claiming to be lost and then fell into a “dreamlike state” and handed over their belongings.
The five have been placed under investigation for “fraud in an organised gang”.
The arrests came weeks after two Chinese women and a man were held and charged with using a similar drug on victims in central Paris.
According to France Info, analysis of powder discovered in a makeshift laboratory in a Paris suburb found it to contain scopolamine but also atropine, a medication used to treat certain types of nerve agent and pesticide poisonings, which can also cause hallucinations.
It is thought all those arrested are part of an international Triad-style criminal gang running a multimillion-pound operation in various countries.
Scopolamine is made from the seeds of a tree called Borrachero – roughly translated as “drunken binge” – which blooms with deceptively beautiful white and yellow flowers. It is mainly produced in Colombia via a chemical process that results in a white powder resembling cocaine.
Tales surrounding the drug are the stuff of urban legends, with some telling horror stories of how people were raped, forced to empty their bank accounts, and even coerced into giving up an organ.
iriam Gutiérrez, a toxicology expert in Bogota, Colombia, told Vice News: “From a medical point of view, it’s the perfect substance to commit criminal acts because the victim won’t remember anything, and therefore won’t report anything.”
Dementia Black, a drug dealer, told the news website the effects of blowing it into someone’s face are almost instant. “It works in a flash. You wait for a minute for it to kick in and then you know you own that person. You can guide them wherever you want. It’s like they’re a child.”
According to the US state department, unofficial estimates put the number of annual scopolamine incidents in Colombia at approximately 50,000.
By Henry Samuel, Paris
4:37PM BST 06 Oct 2015
Clinical name: Scopolamine
Also known as: Hyoscine, burundanga
Grown: Mainly South America
What is it?
A powerful drug extracted from plants belonging to the nightshade family. It is odourless and tasteless
What are its effects?
It turns users into 'zombies' devoid of free will, who then suffer amnesia. Experts say it causes the same level of memory loss as diazepam
How is it taken?
The drug can be swallowed or inhaled. It can simply be blown in the face of someone on the street; their free will vanishes after exposure
Is it new?
It was reportedly used as a truth serum in the Cold War. It is also said to have been given to the mistresses of dead Colombian leaders before being led to their master’s grave and buried alive
In the right doses, it could be effective against some forms of severe depression
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