A Canadian man accused of drug smuggling in China told a court during a retrial trial on Monday that he was swept up in what has turned out to be an international drug trafficking syndicate.
The trial came after an upper court called for a harsher sentence in a case that could further strain ties between Beijing and Ottawa.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, was brought in handcuffs to a hearing in the northeast city of Dalian where he could potentially face the death penalty, weeks after his appeal of a 15-year prison sentence backfired.
Canadian embassy officials and three foreign journalists were given rare access to his retrial.
Schellenberg, who was reportedly detained in northeast Liaoning province in 2014, is accused of playing an important role in drug smuggling and of potential involvement in international organised crime.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 150,000 yuan 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.
In his opening statement, Schellenberg said he had come to China after travelling through Southeast Asia, including Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
He said a friend recommended him a man named Xu Qing as a translator and he was swept up in what has turned out to be an international drug trafficking syndicate.
"This is a case about Xu Qing, he is an international drug smuggler and a liar," Schellenberg told the court.
The crux of the retrial hinges on how much Schellenberg knows about the drug deal, which he claims was masterminded by Khamla Wong, a Canadian who was in 2016 arrested on drug charges.
Prosecutors say that Schellenberg was part of an international syndicate which planned to send some 222 kilogrammes of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden within plastic pellets concealed in rubber tyres.
Prosecutors brought in Xu as a witness, who in close to two hours of testimony never once turned to look at Schellenberg.
When pressed on details, he frequently said he could not remember and to refer to a written statement for details, including when Schellenberg questioned him about 180,000 yuan he was purportedly given.
Two other Chinese men have been involved in this case – one has sentenced to life imprisonment, another handed a suspended death sentence.
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.
The retrial 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.
Mainland authorities have since detained two Canadian nationals – a former diplomat and a business consultant – on suspicion of endangering national security, a move seen as an act of retaliation over the Huawei executive's arrest. (AFP)