Australian man could face death penalty in China drug trial

Australian man could face death penalty in China drug trial

Guangzhou, CHINA - An Australian man on Thursday faced a possible death sentence on charges of attempting to smuggle millions of dollars worth of drugs out of China.

The trial follows Indonesia's high-profile executions last week of two convicted Australian drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, alongside six others from several countries, despite international criticism of the use of the death penalty.

Chinese authorities arrested New Zealand-born Peter Gardner, 26, at the international airport in the southern city of Guangzhou last November, carrying bags of nearly 30 kg (66 lb) of methamphetamine, known as "ice".

Customs officials put the market value of the drugs at several million dollars.

As his parents and New Zealand officials watched, Gardner, seated in handcuffs before three judges in the Guangzhou Intermediate Court, pleaded his innocence.

"Without a doubt this is the biggest mistake of my life,"Gardner told the judges.

When he saw the ice being ripped from the bags, he added, "My heart dropped."

Gardner holds dual Australian and New Zealand nationality but entered China on his New Zealand passport.

He said he had travelled there to pick up a quantity of performance enhancing drugs, arranged through an intermediary in Sydney.

He was given two sealed black carrier bags by two Chinese men during his stay at the Hilton Hotel, he told the court. Airport customs officials later discovered the bags contained ice.

The Sydney intermediary was a trusted friend, Gardner told the court, and he was just "following instructions" in taking the bags.

Sentencing is expected later on Thursday.

Chinese authorities blamed a rise in violent crime last year on a surge in drug smuggling from Southeast Asia.

Drug use in China has grown along with the rise of a new urban class with more disposable income.

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