New Zealander stands trial in China on drug charges

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GUANGZHOU, China (AP) — A 25-year-old New Zealander who faces a possible death sentence if convicted of smuggling methamphetamine testified Thursday that he came to China to collect what he thought was muscle-building supplements and never checked the packages before trying to depart.

Peter Gardner at times choked on his words and said he was sorry for any harm done to China and to his family because of his involvement in the case in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

His lawyer, Zhang Jie, said Gardner was tricked into being an accomplice in a smuggling scheme, and that he had never touched any of the methamphetamines that were seized by customs officials at Guangzhou Baiyun airport on Nov. 8.

Authorities have charged him with trying to smuggle more than 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of the illegal drug out of China, which carries a possible death penalty. The trial concluded Thursday and no date was set for a verdict.

The trial in Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court was broadcast live on a court website, but Gardner's testimony in English was barely, if at all, audible. A court interpreter gave an audible translation in Chinese.

Gardner argued that he did not knowingly smuggle drugs, though he appeared to acknowledge some wrongdoing and offered to remedy the situation by helping police identify Chinese suspects.

Gardner, who also has Australian citizenship and resided in Sydney, said he came to China to buy several kilograms of a muscle-building supplement, "but I didn't check the parcel after I got the delivery," the translator quoted him as saying.

"The crime I committed affected my family, and I would do anything that would help me in this situation, so I'd like to help the police to identify other suspects," the translator quoted him as saying. "And I'd like to point out the other Chinese suspects as soon as possible if police hand me photos for me to identify."

The court was shown a security video of an exchange in which Gardner met two Chinese men in the lobby of the Hilton hotel in Guangzhou. He is seen approaching the men, exchanging a code to confirm identities and then taking possession of two Adidas-brand duffel bags.

The prosecution also showed a video from Chinese customs of the moment the bags were opened at Guangzhou Baiyun airport. In the video, which lasted more than 5 minutes, officials pulled more than 60 plastic bags containing a white powder and placed them on a table.

Gardner arrived at the court venue in a police truck. His parents sat in the courtroom, visibly upset throughout the proceedings.

He was detained in Guangzhou in November along with a 22-year-old Australian woman who later was released.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the case at a regular briefing Thursday, said drug smuggling does "great harm to society" and the case will be handled according to law. "And we will be very cautious about using the death penalty," she said.


Associated Press writer Ian Mader in Beijing contributed to this report.

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