Robert Lloyd Schellenberg sentenced to death in China, possible links to Huawei row

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Robert Lloyd Schellenberg sentenced to death in China, possible links to Huawei row


A general view of the Intermediate People’s Court of Dalian, where the retrial for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen convicted on drug smuggling charges, was held, in Liaoning province, China, on Jan. 14, 2019. (China Stringer Network/Reuters)

A Chinese court issued the death penalty on Monday in the retrial of a convicted Canadian drug trafficker, a sentence that is expected to sharply escalate China’s diplomatic row with Canada and the United States.

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 Vancouver native’s role in an organized drug trafficking operation.

The case has been condemned by Western legal experts and Schellenberg’s relatives, who say China is using Schellenberg as a bargaining chip in its efforts to free a top technology executive whose detention in Canada infuriated the Chinese government. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday made his strongest-yet comment on the matter, expressing “extreme concern” over the case. 

“It is of extreme concern to us as a government — as it should be to all our international friends and allies — that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty,” he told reporters in Ottawa. 

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the Vancouver airport on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face fraud charges related to alleged violations of Iran sanctions. 

The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court announced Schellenberg’s new sentence in an online statement that detailed how he conspired with three others to pack more than 200 kilograms of methamphetamine in tires to ship to Australia. The statement did not describe Schellenberg’s defense; he has previously said he was framed. 

If he chooses, Schellenberg could appeal again within 10 days, the court said. His case is expected to be reviewed by higher courts before he is put to death.

Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 and received his original sentence in 2018 in a case that went largely unnoticed.

It came to light this month, when the Chinese government took the rare step of inviting foreign media to attend his appeal hearing — prompting speculation that Beijing wanted to use Schellenberg’s case to exert pressure on Ottawa to free Meng, a top executive at one of the champions of China’s tech industry.

Last month, Chinese authorities detained Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two other Canadians living in China, on suspicion of national security crimes. They highlighted Schellenberg’s case, and the prospect of putting him to death, shortly thereafter.

“The procedures in Mr. Schellenberg’s case would be unusual even if he was a Chinese national. The fact that he is a Canadian, combined with the welcoming of foreign media to view court proceedings, makes it downright suspicious,” said Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University. 

Spokesmen for China’s Foreign Ministry have rejected accusations that political motivations are driving the treatment of the Canadian detainees, maintaining that their cases have been handled in accordance with Chinese law.

But comments by the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, have appeared to acknowledge that Beijing took “self-defense” actions in response to Meng’s arrest.

In a fiery op-ed published last week in the Hill Times, an Ottawa newspaper, the Chinese diplomat lashed out at “Western egotism and white supremacy,” arguing that Canadians who criticized China’s treatment of the Canadians were guilty of racism and double standards.

“To those people, China’s self-defense is an offense to Canada,” Lu wrote.

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