BEIJING — A Chinese court has ordered a retrial for a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling, raising the possibility of a harsher sentence — death — as well as the stakes of a running dispute between China and Canada over their respective seizures of the other country’s citizens.
A court in the city of Dalian on Saturday sided with prosecutors who argued that Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was handed 15 years imprisonment by a lower court in 2016, received too light a sentence for trying to smuggle methamphetamine out of the port city.
Schellenberg could be executed in accordance with Chinese law if prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty. A British man was put to death in 2009 for smuggling 4 kilograms of heroin into China; Schellenberg allegedly tried to smuggle more than 200 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Schellenberg has pleaded not guilty, arguing he was framed.
The decision to retry Schellenberg — and the surfacing of a previously obscure case — comes weeks after Canada arrested a Chinese executive, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, during a Dec. 1 layover in Vancover at the behest of the United States.
Meng is wanted for allegedly defrauding banks to get around U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Her arrest infuriated China, which called it a human rights violation and vowed serious repercussions if Meng were not released. In the weeks since, Chinese authorities have seized two Canadians on national security charges, although they have denied the detentions were politically motivated.
Schellenberg’s initial arrest in 2014 and subsequent trial in 2016 were tracked by Canadian officials but did not attract any media coverage.
In an unusual move this week, China’s government issued invitations to several foreign news organizations to cover the trial in Dalian, prompting speculation that Beijing sought to use Schellenberg’s case to exert pressure on Ottawa.
According to a statement issued by the court, prosecutors found new evidence that Schellenberg was part of an international smuggling ring and believed that his previous, “light punishment was obviously not appropriate.”
The court statement said the open trial showed that Schellenberg enjoyed full legal rights — including the right to a translator — and was attended by the Canadian embassy and Chinese and foreign media.
Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Wall Street Journal, which attended the hearing, reported there were instances of mistaken or omitted translations during the hearing.
Judges deliberated for 20 minutes after the 3-hour hearing — which was mostly taken up by a lengthy defense from Schellenberg’s lawyer, The Journal reported.