Canadian sentenced to death in China in drug smuggling case

Michael Kovrig

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen arrested in China in 2014, was sentenced to death by the Dalian Intermediate People's Court over drug smuggling accusations, CBC reported, citing a statement by the court.

The two countries have been at odds since the arrest of Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December on suspicion of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Schellenberg, who was reportedly detained in northeast Liaoning province in 2014, is accused of playing an important role in drug smuggling and of potentially being involved in worldwide organised drug trafficking activities. While he appealed the sentence, the effort backfired in December 2018, with the court ruling that his initial sentence was too lenient in light of the charges he'd been convicted of.

Courts heard an appeal of that conviction on December 29, 2018, and ordered a retrial for Monday, raising the possibility of a harsher sentence.

Schellenberg, a 36-year-old former oil worker, was initially detained in Liaoning province in 2015.

Ottawa said it was following the case "very closely" and has provided Schellenberg with consular assistance.

But prosecutors said they had evidence that "highly suggests Schellenberg was involved in organised worldwide drug crime", it reported quoting Chinese state-run broadcaster CGTN.

China has since detained two Canadian nationals, accusing them of endangering national security.

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"I came to China as a tourist", Schellenberg, said in his final statement before the sentence was announced.

He said a friend recommended a man named Xu Qing as a translator, and Schellenberg was swept up in what turned out to be an worldwide drug trafficking syndicate.

But Chinese prosecutors said Schellenberg was the principal suspect in a case involving an worldwide syndicate that planned to send some 222 kilogrammes (490 pounds) of methamphetamine to Australia.

Prosecutors presented Xu as a witness, who in almost two hours of testimony did not look at Schellenberg.

Experts said retrials are rare in China, especially ones calling for a harsher sentence, but rights groups noted that courts are not independent and can be influenced by the Communist Party.

Beijing has repeatedly denied any diplomatic pressure behind Schellenberg's case.

Two other Chinese men were involved in the case - one was sentenced to life in jail, while the other was given a suspended death sentence.

"You can ask these (critics) which laws the relevant Chinese judicial organs and departments have violated by (ordering a retrial)", foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing on Friday.

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