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French police arrested two Chinese women and a man for using "Devil's Breath" to rob peopleReuters

Two Chinese women and a man have been arrested by French police after using a potent Colombian drug known as "The Devil's Breath" to rob people. The drug is said to send people into a zombie-like trance, depriving them of free will.

The women, aged 42 and 59, and the man are thought to belong to a Triad-style criminal gang with a multi-million pound global operation. The drug is blown into victims' face and takes effect within a matter of minutes. It is related to the deadly nightshade and is lethal in strong doses.

"The victims targeted, often very old, were accosted in the street by a first woman," a source close to the investigation told Le Parisien newspaper, as reported by The Daily Telegraph. "This person claimed to be looking for a mysterious 'Doctor Wang' before being joined by her accomplice.

"They managed to isolate their victims, then got them to breathe in a mixture of plants on the grounds they had powerful curative qualities – even protecting them from misfortune." The controlling substance blocks the construction of memories, leaving victims none the wiser.

"They then took advantage by getting the victims to take them to their home, where they asked them to put all their jewellery and money into a bag and hand it over to them." One unsuspecting Parisian who fell into the trap handed over £73,500 ($112,500) in cash and valuables to the pair. A police raid at the trio's hotel room in Seine-Saint-Denis yielded "various Chinese medicinal substances as well as weighing scales, filters and gloves". All arrested deny any wrongdoing.

Chinese authorities informed their French colleagues that the trio are part of a criminal network which "acts around the world and specialises in mental submission with the aid of unknown products," according to Le Parisien.

The UK government warns that the powerful narcotic "can be administered through food, drinks, cigarettes, aerosols and even paper flyers. Victims become disoriented quickly and are vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault and other crimes". In 2013, Colombian police reported nearly 1,200 cases of people falling victim to Devil's Breath and other similar zombie-drugs.

Devil's breath – or scopolamine – has been studied by the CIA and secret police as a tool for interrogation and it was reportedly used as a truth serum during the Cold War, while callous Nazi physician Josef Mengele imported the substance to use during interrogations. Under strict control, NASA has used it to combat motion sickness.