A Chinese court has ordered a retrial for a Canadian national accused of smuggling "an enormous amount of drugs" into the Communist nation, arguing that his initial sentence of 15 years imprisonment followed by immediate deportation was too light.
The sentence, which had not been previously reported, was apparently handed down on Nov. 20. But at a hearing on Saturday, the Canadian citizen, Robert Schellenberg, prosecutors accused him of playing a key role in a major drug smuggling operation and argued that his sentence was far too light, according to Reuters.
The Associated Press reported that few details about Schellenberg's case have been released.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was tried in 2016 but his case has been publicized by the Chinese press following the Dec. 1 arrest of the chief financial officer of tech giant Huawei on U.S. charges related to trading with Iran.
Drug offenses are typically punished severely in China, and drug smuggling offenses are often met with the death penalty - as in the case of a British national who was put to death in 2009 for smuggling more than 4,000 grams of heroin into the country. The initial sentence was handed down by the high court in Dalian, the top court in the northeastern province of Laioning.
The Canadian government said it has been offering consular support to Schellenberg in the case, and that it has also been in contact with Chinese officials. Canadian diplomats were at the court when the retrial was ordered. Canada has been following the case for several years, but said it couldn't offer any more details citing privacy concerns.
Though some fear that a retrial could heighten tensions between China and Canada after China detained two Canadians on charges of endangering national security, Ottawa celebrated a decision by Beijing to release a third Canadian who had been detained for allegedly working illegally in the country. China said her deportation would be counted as an "administrative punishment."
In one development that could lessen tensions, a Canadian government spokesman said on Friday that a Canadian citizen who was detained in China this month had returned to Canada after being released from custody.
The spokesman did not specify when the Canadian was released or returned to Canada. Earlier in the day, broadcaster CBC identified the citizen as teacher Sarah McIver.
China’s Foreign Ministry said this month that McIver was undergoing "administrative punishment" for working illegally.
McIver was the third Canadian to be detained by China following the Dec. 1 arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], but a Canadian official said there was no reason to believe that the woman’s detention was linked to the earlier arrests.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland didn't mention the woman last week when she demanded that Beijing release the detained Canadians, though she did reveal that the former diplomat and businessman currently in custody in Beijing had only been allowed one visit with consular officials.
Beijing is still seething over Canada's decision to arrest Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the US. She is now out on bail as she awaits extradition. Should Schellenberger face the death penalty, it would likely ratchet up tensions between Ottawa and Beijing, which has threatened "escalation" in its ongoing diplomatic dispute with Canada.