Robert Schellenberg is a Canadian man who has been sentenced to death in China after that country accused him of drug smuggling.
The Chinese sentence, which reversed a lighter one, is widely believed to be a reaction to the arrest of Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei. The United States has accused Meng Wanzhou of doing business with Iran.
Schellenberg, 36, was given 10 days to appeal his sentence. His full name is Robert Lloyd Schellenberg.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Robert Schellenberg Claims He Was in China as a Tourist
China may say he’s a drug smuggler, but Robert Schellenberg has a simpler explanation. He says he was in China as a tourist. According to Reuters, a Chinese news report indicated that Schellenberg argued “in court that he was a tourist visiting China and was framed by criminals.”
According to Fox News, China’s anger over the Meng Wanzhou arrest also boiled over in the arrests of two other Canadians, Michael Kovrig, described as “a former diplomat,” and Michael Spavor, a businessman.
Schellenberg was previously sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken out against the death sentence, accusing China of “acting arbitrarily.”
William Nee, of Amnesty International, told Reuters that the offense did not meet the “most serious crimes” death penalty benchmark and added, “This is all the more shocking given the rushed nature of the retrial, and the deliberate way in which the Chinese authorities drew attention to this case.”
2. Schellenberg Was Described as an ‘Adventurous Traveler’
What’s known about Schellenberg’s occupation is a bit vague.
According to The New York Times, Schellenberg was “an adventurous traveler who used earnings from working in Alberta’s oil fields to pay for his travels in Asia,” per his family.
He spent a lot of time in Thailand and Asia, the newspaper reported. He is a native of Abbotsford, which is located in British Columbia.
Reuters reported that Schellenberg is a former oil worker.
3. The Retrial Lasted a Single Day & China Accused Schellenberg of Causing Harm to Society
Schellenberg was arrested in 2014.
According to The New York Times, China’s retrial of Robert Schellenberg lasted a single day. The Chinese government posted its side of the story on the Internet.
The translated version of that statement reads that, on January 14, 2019, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court of Liaoning Province “publicly heard the trial of the smuggling of drugs by the Canadian defendant Robert LLOYD SCHELLENBERG” and he was “sentenced to the death” and his personal property confiscated.
In the statement posted to the Internet, the Chinese government further claimed: “The public prosecution agency presented evidence of physical evidence, documentary evidence, on-site investigation transcripts, drug identification opinions, confession of another defendant, witness testimony and other evidence in court. The witness Xu was present in court to testify.”
Claimed China: “The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court found that the defendant, Schellenberger, participated in organized international drug trafficking activities and smuggled 222.035 kilograms of (methamphetamine) with others, and his behavior constituted a crime of smuggling drugs. The facts alleged by the public prosecution agency are clear, the evidence is true and sufficient…Schellenberg is the principal offender…According to the facts, nature, circumstances and serious harm to the society of the defendant, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, the defendant Schellenberg was sentenced to death for smuggling drugs and the property was confiscated.”
The Chinese government added, “During the trial of the case, the people’s court guaranteed the rights of the defendant in the process of litigation, such as defense and translation. Before the trial, the people’s court notified the Canadian Embassy in China in accordance with relevant regulations, and the officials…went to the court. More than 50 people from all walks of life and some Chinese and foreign media reporters attended the trial and sentencing.”
4. China Claims That Schellenberg Was Part of a Methamphetamine Ring
According to the translated statement from the Chinese government, the “Dalian Intermediate People’s Court found through trial that: Kaim, Stephen and Mr. Zhou (both at large) and others implemented organized international drug trafficking activities, and controlled two accounts of Ping An Bank and China Merchants Bank in China. Crime provides financial support.”
In mid-October 2014, Kaim “hired a translator Xu for his work, instructing Xu to rent a warehouse in Dalian, order tires, and receive ‘Mr. Zhou’ and Jian Xiangrong…20 tons of plastic pellets containing 222 packets of ice poison from Guangdong Province to Dalian City and placed in the warehouse.”
The statement claimed: “Foreigners handle the shipment. On November 19th, Kem appointed Schellenberg to Dalian to meet with Xu, intending to hide drugs in the tire liner and smuggle into Australia. Since then, Schellenberg has asked Xu to purchase tools for repackaging drugs and tire liners, ordering tires, inner tubes and used containers. After reviewing the cargo and assessing the workload, Schellenberg changed the schedule from November to December.”
The Chinese government continued, “On the afternoon of the 27th, Schellenberger called Mai Qingxiang (who was sentenced to death for the crime of transporting drugs and was suspended for two years) and asked him to help find another warehouse to store drugs. Mai Qingxiang then called the Dalian warehouse operator to contact the warehouse. On the 29th, Xu reported the case to the public security organ. After Schellenberg noticed, he left the hotel in the early morning of December 1 to Dalian Airport to prepare to flee to Thailand. On the way, Schellenberger dropped the phone SIM card and replaced the new SIM card. At 13:00 on the same day, when the plane stopped in Guangzhou, Schellenberg was arrested by the public security organs. After identification, the 222 packets of methicillin seized by the public security organs had a net weight of 222.035 kg.”
Continued China: “It was also found that from mid-November to early December 2014, Mr. Zhou pointed out that Jian Xiangrong had twice hired a car to transport goods mixed with drugs from Guangzhou to Hangzhou. Jian Xiangrong, Steven and Mai Qingxiang were responsible for receiving the shipment. On December 5, the public security organ arrested Mai Qingxiang and seized 501 kilograms of ice. During the above-mentioned crimes, Kem, Steven and the two accounts controlled by Mr. Zhou and others repeatedly transferred funds to the accounts of Jian Xiangrong and Mai Qingxiang for related expenses.”
5. Schellenberg’s Family Says Their ‘Worst Fears Are Realized’
Schellenberg’s distraught family has spoke to the news media. “The worst-case scenario is what happened, our worst fears were realized,” Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, told The New York Times.
“I didn’t think we’d get a verdict this fast,” Nelson-Jones said to the newspaper. “It’s shocking, especially from a North American view of how things go.”
She told The New York Times that the family believes Schellenberg has “become a pawn. We can only guess, but that is definitely what it looks like, and that is incredibly worrisome.”
Schellenberg was in court “wearing glasses, a black shirt and grey pants. He looked very calm during the trial,” Global Times reported.