More than six years after being caught trying to smuggle drugs into China, a 76-year-old Japanese former politician has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Takuma Sakuragi, a former city assemblyman from Japan's Aichi prefecture, was detained at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in southern China's Guangdong province in October 2013 in possession of 3.3kg (7.3lbs) of methamphetamine.
Sakuragi's two accomplices, both from West Africa, were also found guilty by the Guangzhou First Intermediate People's Court, the Southern Metropolis News reported on Friday.
Aly Yattabare from Mali was sentenced to the death suspended for two years, while Mohamed Soumah from Guinea was given a life sentence, the report said.
The three men were first tried in Guangzhou in August 2014, and all pleaded not guilty. However, the court failed to reach a verdict and the case dragged on due to the absence of suitable translators, the report said.
Sakuragi's lawyer, Chen Weixiong, described the sentencing as "unjust and unfair".
"The court delayed the case 20 times and postponed the verdict for five years. How did the city court come up with a verdict that it was unable to reach five years ago without any new evidence?"
Chen said his client was in poor health, having undergone abdominal surgery in May, and that he had lost half of his teeth over the past five years behind bars.
He said also that there was "significant evidence" that Sakuragi had been framed, adding that his client would appeal against the court's decision.
When he was detained at the airport in 2013, Sakuragi claimed he had been tricked into carrying a suitcase containing the drugs by a Nigerian acquaintance who had been helping him recover debts of more than US$700,000.
He said he had been given the case by Yattabare, who was acting on behalf of the unnamed Nigerian. Yattabare and Soumah were arrested in November 2013 at their flat in Guangzhou, where police also found more narcotics and drug-related paraphernalia.
China has tough laws to deter drug trafficking and those found guilty of smuggling, selling, transporting or producing more than 50 grams of an illegal substance face a prison term of 15 years to life, or even the death penalty.
In January, an appeal court sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death for his part in an international methamphetamine-smuggling operation based in the Chinese port city of Dalian. He had originally been sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
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