Drug mule gets death penalty
Court finds previous ruling ‘too lenient’
A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death on drug trafficking charges yesterday after his previous 15-year prison sentence was deemed too lenient, a ruling likely to deepen a diplomatic rift between Ottawa and Beijing. Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, nodded as the j udge asked him whether he understood the verdict, following a day-long retrial in which he declared his innocence. “The court completely rejects the accused person’s explanation and defence because it is completely at odds with the facts,” the chief judge said in a courtroom packed with observers — among them Canadian embassy officials and foreign reporters. He can appeal against the sentence at an upper court. Schellenberg had originally been sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 150,000-yuan (708,000 baht) forfeiture in November. But following an appeal, a high court in Liaoning ruled in December that the sentence was too lenient given the severity of his crimes. “I am not a drug smuggler. I came to China as a tourist,” Schellenberg said in his final statement before the sentence was announced. The sentence comes against the backdrop of the Chinese government’s anger over the arrest in Canada of a top executive from telecom giant Huawei last month on a US extradition request related to Iran sanctions violations. Chinese authorities have since detained two Canadian nationals on suspicion of endangering national security, a move seen as retaliation over the Huawei executive’s arrest. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused China of “arbitrarily and unfairly” detaining former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor. The Dalian court said Schellenberg, who was detained in December 2014, played a “key part” in an international drug trafficking syndicate. “Not just content with spreading drugs in one country, the syndicate has spread across borders... it is a harm to human health and also to the stability of countries,” the court said. Schellenberg claimed the drug deal was masterminded by Khamla Wong, a Canadian who was arrested in Thailand in 2016 on drug charges. But Chinese prosecutors said Schellenberg was the principal suspect in a case involving an international syndicate that planned to send some 222 kilogrammes of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden in plastic pellets which were concealed in rubber tyres. China has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes in the past, including a Japanese national in 2014 and a Filipina in 2013. Experts said retrials are rare in China, especially ones calling for a harsher sentence. Ottawa has said it was following the case “very closely” and has provided Schellenberg with consular assistance. China’s foreign ministry said on Friday critics “can stop suspecting others of politicising legal issues just because they have done so”.
A general view of the Intermediate People’s Court of Dalian yesterday, where the trial of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen on drug smuggling charges was held.