New York- New York authorities on Friday announced criminal charges against 17 people accused of running an international drug ring trafficking in tons of khat, a leafy plant chewed as a stimulant.

The ring allegedly moved the khat across four continents and distributed it in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Police Department Commissioner William Bratton said.

Khat is grown and sold legally in much of eastern Africa where chewing the plant is an ancient social custom. It is widely consumed by Yemeni, Somali and Ethiopian communities and is considered a controlled substance in the United States.

According to the 215-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, the khat was obtained in Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia and shipped to the United States through the United Kingdom, China, Holland and Belgium.

“Khat is a dangerous and illegal drug with worldwide reach,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “As a result of this international takedown, a sophisticated operation accused of bringing drugs into the United States and sending the profits overseas has been shut down.”

Following a nearly yearlong investigation, the indictment charges 17 co-conspirators - from England; New York City; Rochester, New York; Everett, Massachusetts; and Blaine, Minnesota - with crimes including drug trafficking and possession, money laundering and conspiracy.

Reuters