A man sentenced to death in China on Monday for his role in a 2014 drug-smuggling operation has previously served two jail terms for drug crimes in Abbotsford.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, formerly of Abbotsford, was sentenced to one year in prison in February 2010 and two years of probation on three counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking, according to the online provincial court database.
He was also charged with four more offences – two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking and two counts of possession of a controlled substance – in August 2011.
That case went to trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack, and Schellenberg was convicted of all four charges in 2012 and sentenced to two years in prison. Minus credit for time in pre-trial custody, Schellenberg spent another 16 months in jail.
All of these charges were based in Abbotsford.
Schellenberg on Monday was sentenced to death after being convicted in the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in the Liaoning Province of drug smuggling. He has an opportunity to appeal the decision.
Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones of Maryland, said in an emailed statement that this is the “worst-case fear confirmed” for his family.
“Our thoughts are with Robert at this time. It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal,” she said.
Later in the day, an additional statement was issued by the Schellenberg family.
“The Schellenberg family cares deeply about our Robert, who is being held under very difficult circumstances in China. As a family we are communicating with our Member of Parliament, Mr. Ed Fast, who is working hard on our behalf to ensure that the Trudeau government makes every effort to secure fair treatment for Robert,” the statement read.
“The Schellenberg family requests that all Canadians stand with us and pray for the safe return of our loved one.”
Schellenberg was initially handed a 15-year prison term in November 2018 but appealed the sentence, and a re-trial was then ordered after prosecutors argued that his sentence was too light.
An official court account of the case published online states that Schellenberg was involved in an international drug-trafficking scheme in which drugs were to be hidden in plastic pellets in tires and shipped to Australia.
The documents state that Schellenberg asked a translator who was hired to assist in the operation to purchase tools for repacking drugs, as well as tire liners, tires, inner tubes and containers.
They also say that Schellenberg called another man involved in the operation and asked him to help find another warehouse to store the drugs.
The operation fell apart when the translator, Xu, went to the authorities, according to the court account.
Schellenberg got wind of this and boarded a plane at Dalian Airport in an attempt to flee to Thailand. But he was arrested when the plane stopped in Guangzhou – in southern China – and he was found to be helping to smuggle 222 kilograms of methamphetamine, according to the online report.
The drugs were seized by police, but the report doesn’t say where they were found.
The Dalian Intermediate People’s court stated in its account that prosecutors presented “physical evidence, documentary evidence, on-site investigation transcripts, drug identification opinions, confession of another defendant, witness testimony and other evidence in court.”
As well, the witness Xu testified.
Schellenberg’s defence was that he was a tourist visiting China, and he was framed by criminals, according to reports from some of the foreign media who attended the trial and sentencing.
The sentence comes after China detained two Canadians in December in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese technology executive.
Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, raising tensions between Canada and China.