WASHINGTON, Sep 24 (Reuters) More than 120 individuals have been arrested in the United States on federal charges in the largest steroids crackdown ever, the Justice Department said today.
Department officials said the arrests stemmed from ''Operation Raw Deal,'' a nearly two-year international investigation targeting the illegal manufacturing and trafficking of anabolic steroids and the raw materials, mainly from China, used to make the performance-enhancing drugs.
The investigation also targeted the human growth hormone and the insulin growth factor markets, they said. The US operation coincided with enforcement actions in Mexico, Canada, China, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Thailand.
Anabolic steroids aid muscle tissue build-up and are popular with bodybuilders but can cause damage to the heart and liver.
Since the investigation began in December 2005, 143 search warrants have been carried out on targets around the United States, resulting in the seizure of 56 steroid labs and of 533 pounds (242 kg) of raw steroid powder of Chinese origin, the officials said.
''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 Tandy, the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, said.
''DEA successfully attacked the illegal steroid industry at every level of its distribution network -- from the manufacturers in China who supply the raw materials, to the traffickers in the United States who market the deadly doses,'' she said in a statement.
Illegal steroids have been used by athletes in a wide range of sports to help build muscle mass.
GREAT ATHLETES' TAINTED CAREERS Major league baseball's all-time home run king, Barry Bonds, has had his illustrious career tainted by allegations of steroid use, while the career of another great slugger, Mark McGwire, has been marred by widespread suspicions that he used the drug.
According to the charges, worldwide manufacturers of the raw materials needed for steroids employed Web sites to market their products and even provided guidance to potential customers on how to obtain steroids or convert the raw material into steroids.
In Berlin, the Federal Crime Office said German authorities have raided homes and businesses as part of the investigation.
Police conducted the raids at the end of last week and arrested one suspect and seized evidence, it said.
In the United States, criminal charges have been filed this month in numerous locations, including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and Missouri.
The charges includes various narcotics-distribution offenses, such as conspiracy to import anabolic steroids, as well as conspiracy to launder money.
Reuters KK VP0104