China holds appeal hearing for Canadian sentenced to death

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BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court held an appeal hearing Thursday for a Canadian who was sentenced to death for drug smuggling in a case that has deepened a diplomatic rift between the two countries.

The intermediate-level court in northeastern Liaoning province said Robert Schellenberg’s sentence would be announced at an unspecified date.

Convicted of playing a central role in a methamphetamine smuggling operation, Schellenberg was initially sentenced to 15 years in November, only to be handed the death sentence at a hastily-scheduled January retrial.

That came after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, on a U.S. extradition warrant in December. Days later, two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — were detained in China in apparent retaliation.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned Schellenberg’s sentencing in January and accused China of “arbitrarily” applying the death penalty.

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Schellenberg, who was arrested in 2014, has maintained his innocence.

More than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of methamphetamine were seized as part of Schellenberg’s case, the court said. It called the 36-year-old Canadian the “principal offender” and said the evidence presented was “true and sufficient.”

Canadian Embassy officials were notified and Schellenberg’s litigation rights were lawfully protected during Thursday’s proceedings, the court added.

Schellenberg’s attorney Zhang Dongshuo said it was not clear when the court would announce a decision.

“Both sides comprehensively debated what each believes to be the issues in the case,” Zhang said, adding that at this stage he cannot assess what the final judgment will be.

The appeal hearing followed Meng’s court appearance Wednesday in Vancouver.

Meng is accused of lying to banks about the company’s dealings with Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. Her attorney, Scott Fenton, has argued that comments by U.S. President Donald Trump suggest the case against her is politically motivated.

Washington has pressured other countries to limit use of Huawei’s technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.

China and the U.S. are currently embroiled in a trade dispute that has beleaguered global financial markets.

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