China denies detained Canadian has diplomatic immunity

Michael Kovrig

A Canadian accused of smuggling drugs into China has been handed a death sentence after a one-day retrial.

A court in Dalian in northeastern Liaoning province announced Monday evening that it has given Robert Lloyd Schellenberg the death penalty.

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

Bilateral ties turned icy in early December after Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], was arrested in Vancouver on a US extradition warrant. While reviewing the appeal, Liaoning province's high court argued that the Canadian had been part of an global drug smuggling operation and ruled that the initial punishment was too lenient, considering the crimes that he had committed.

A terse official statement from the Dalian Intermediate People's Court said that it had "convicted Schellenberg of smuggling drugs and sentenced him to death". The apparent weak evidence against the Canadian, the speed in scheduling a retrial, and China's invitation of the global press to cover the sentencing all indicate that the move could be retaliatory and aimed at gaining leverage over Ottawa.

China denounced her arrest, warning of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released, and detained Michael Kovrig, a Canadian foreign ministry employee on unpaid leave, and Michael Spavor, a Canadian consultant, on suspicion of endangering state security.

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Chinese state television said in an earlier report that Schellenberg argued in court that he was a tourist visiting China and was framed by criminals.

Amnesty China researcher William Nee.

Persons carrying a diplomatic passport are protected by limited immunity when they are overseas under the terms of the Vienna Convention. In a statement, the court alleged he was involved in organized global drug crimes.

China has not directly linked its arrest of the two Canadians with Meng's arrest in Canada.

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.

According to the court, Schellenberg was recruited to help smuggle 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from a Chinese warehouse to Australia. But Schellenberg said he was unwittingly recruited into the scheme by Xu, reported Agence France-Presse, one of three foreign news outlets allowed into the court. "He is an global drug smuggler and a liar", The Post quoted Schellenberg telling the court. China did not directly link the arrest to the charges against Meng, but said the men are being investigated in accordance with Chinese Law.

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