Canadian Robert Schellenberg sentenced to death in China for drug trafficking

Blanche Robertson
January 14, 2019

A Canadian man who was convicted of smuggling drugs in China has been sentenced to death.

A new trial was ordered and took place Monday, in China's Liaoning province, with Schellenberg being found guilty and given a death sentence.

Earlier in the day Schellenberg told the court that he had been framed when prosecutors pushed for a harsher sentence in a case which could further exacerbate tensions between the US, Canada and China.

Schellenberg's lawyer Zhang Dongshuo told Reuters he will likely appeal the sentence.

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 USA sanctions against Iran.

Schellenberg was detained more than four years ago and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016. However, the following month, the High People's Court of Liaoning Province ordered a retrial after prosecutors called for Schellenberg to receive a harsher punishment because of the emergence of new evidence which showed his involvement in an worldwide drug smuggling syndicate.

While unusual, it is not unprecedented for a foreign national to be sentenced to death in China.

It arrested both Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, on suspicion of endangering national security.

A man holds a sign calling for China to release Wang Bingzhang and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, at the B.C. Supreme Court bail hearing of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, Canada.

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William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, expressed similar sentiments to the Hong Kong-based newspaper.

Trudeau's statement suggested Kovrig carried a diplomatic passport while on his sabbatical - which is possible if authorised by Canada's foreign ministry - but Hua said he was in China on an ordinary travel document with a business visa.

The court on Monday said Schellenberg had an "extremely large" negative impact on China and was a "core member" of an worldwide drug ring.

Before his arrest, Schellenberg had prepared to flee to Thailand from Dalian but was arrested while in transit in Guangzhou, the court said.

"This is a case about about a man named King (Xu Qing), he is an global drug smuggler and a liar", Schellenberg told the court, accusing Xu of setting him up.

Some foreign experts have said China's swift action in all three cases appeared meant to pressure Canada to free Meng and return her to China, rather than sending her to the United States.

According to the court, Schellenberg was recruited to help smuggle 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from a Chinese warehouse to Australia.

Schellenberg's family said they anxious China would use him as a bargaining chip following Meng's arrest. At a news briefing Friday, a spokesman for the ministry, Lu Kang, said critics should not undermine Chinese law for political purposes.

China has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes.

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