Chinese court sentences Canadian drug suspect to death

Clay Curtis
January 14, 2019

China's diplomatic clash with Canada escalated sharply on Monday (Jan 14), when a Canadian man was sentenced to death for drug smuggling after a Chinese court overrode his plea of innocence at a retrial that had been swiftly called after tensions erupted between the two countries.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg's new sentence comes after an appeals court this month sided with prosecutors who argued that his original sentence of 15 years was too light given new evidence implicating the 36-year old's role in an organised drug trafficking operation.

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 United States sanctions against Iran. In November 2018, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail and a fine amounting to 150,000 yuan ($22,185).

Prosecutors told the court that they "now have evidence that highly suggests Schellenberg was involved in organised worldwide drug crime", China's central television broadcaster said in an online report.

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 U.S. extradition request related to Iran sanctions violations.

He was originally detained in China in 2014, with a trial that began in 2016.

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

In a statement, the court alleged he was involved in organized global drug crimes.

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There has been little public information from the courts about Schellenberg's case, rights groups say, making it hard to keep track of it.

Following her arrest, China also detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Schellenberg's family said they anxious China would use him as a bargaining chip following Meng's arrest.

The court was filled with about 70 observers who were patted down and made to empty pockets - receipts and stray coins were to be left at security. He said a friend recommended a man named Xu Qing as a translator.

Chinese prosecutors say that Schellenberg was part of an worldwide syndicate which planned to send some 222kg of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden within plastic pellets concealed in rubber tyres.

Beijing has repeatedly denied any links to Canada´s arrest of the Huawei executive. But Xu was presented as a witness by prosecutors.

"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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