Officials in Vancouver have seized more than six tonnes of a chemical suspected to be a precursor to methamphetamine after an investigation that began with a container ship full of counterfeit running shoes.

Police believe that the seizure of the chemical P2P is worth as much as $9.8 million, and many times more than that if the substance was used to create drugs like crystal meth or ecstasy. A total of $130,000 in cash and credit card counterfeiting machinery were also uncovered during the investigation.

Investigators say they believe that all of the material seized can be linked back to Asian organized crime.

"This shows the diversity of organized crime. They're not just into drugs anymore; they're into drugs, money laundering, counterfeit items and now credit card and identity theft," RCMP Sgt. Dave Goddard said.

The investigation began last month when Canadian border officers at the Port of Vancouver searched a ship originating in Vietnam. They discovered 150 boxes hidden in a load of fake Nike sneakers, each containing a 22-kilogram jug of a substance believed to be P2P.

RCMP then arranged a police-supervised delivery at the Fraserwinds estate -- a home in the 13000-block of Gilbert Road in Richmond. They searched the property, along with another Richmond residence and homes in Vancouver and Burnaby, on Nov. 4.

The searches uncovered another 129 five-gallon containers of P2P, credit-card skimmers, suspected counterfeiting and identity theft operations, cash and small amounts of methamphetamine and ecstasy.

Two men, who are both Chinese citizens, and a Canadian woman have been arrested and could face charges including importing a controlled substance, possession of instruments for falsifying credits cards and unauthorized use of credit card data.

The only known pharmaceutical use of P2P, also known as phenyl2-propanone or phenylacetone, is the production of methamphetamine or amphetamines.

"It is illegal to import -- not illegal to possess," Const. Michael McLaughlin told reporters.

Richmond home has a history

The sprawling Fraserwinds estate in Richmond was recently the residence of the fugitive Lai Changxing, also known as Mr. Big, who is wanted in China for smuggling billions of dollars worth of cigarettes, tax evasion and fraud.

He has been hiding in Canada since 1999, and purchased the million-dollar Fraserwinds estate two years ago.

But police insist Lai has nothing to do with this investigation.

"There is no direct connection to Lai Changxing," McLaughlin said. "He is in no way part of this investigation."

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Lisa Rossington