A Chinese court in Guangzhou on Tuesday began the trial of a 70-year-old Japanese politician accused of trafficking illegal drugs, which is punishable by death in China. His lawyers argue that the man was unaware of the presence of more than 7 pounds of crystal methamphetamine in his bag.
Takuma Sakuragi, a member of the Inazawa municipal assembly in Aichi prefecture in southern Japan, has pleaded not guilty to charges of trafficking illegal drugs at the Guangzhou City Intermediate People’s Court, the South China Morning Post reported. Sakuragi reportedly flew into Guangzhou from Nagoya, Japan, on Oct. 29 and checked into a hotel in the city's Sanyuanli suburb with the assistance of an African man identified as Gemadi Hassan.
According to the court’s indictment, Sakuragi, who also ran a private trading business and had travelled to China before, was reportedly given a piece of luggage by Hassan containing women’s platform shoes filled with crystal methamphetamine, and was instructed to smuggle it back to Japan and pass it on to a third party.
Sakuragi was stopped by airport security on Oct. 31 at Guangzhou's Baiyuan International Airport before he could board a flight to Japan via Shanghai. Security seized the shoes and cases inside his luggage that contained 28 bags of methamphetamine, weighing 3,289 grams (7.25 pounds), the SCMP report said, citing the indictment.
Two other persons arrested in the drug trafficking case -- Aly Yattabare, 35, from Mali, and Mohamed Soumah, 39, from Guinea -- will also stand trial with Sakuragi, the report said.
Chen Weixiong, a Japanese-speaking Guangzhou-based lawyer who is defending Sakuragi reportedly said on Tuesday that fighting the case made him feel like Don Quixote, a legendary character in Spanish folklore.
”[It’s because we are] attempting the impossible,” Chen said. “The biggest challenge now is the fact that he did carry 3,200 grams of [drugs] in his bag.
”We are going to argue he was not aware of the existence of drugs,” he said. “We will try our best. The best outcome would be [an acquittal].”
Requests by many media organizations to cover the scheduled three-day hearing -- submitted weeks earlier -- were rejected at the last minute.
"Priorities are given to consulate staff, representatives of the People’s Congress, and political advisory bodies and legal staff,” court staff said, SCMP reported.
Sakuragi’s Finnish wife and their son arrived with Chen Tuesday morning to attend the hearing. Sakuragi, who was reportedly dressed in a black suit with no tie and shackles around his ankles, pleaded not guilty just after 10:30 a.m. local time (10:30 p.m. EDT), a Japanese journalist who attended the hearing said.
The two other defendants in the case were arrested in Guangzhou on Nov. 9. On the night of the arrest, Chinese police reportedly seized about 10 grams of methamphetamine in Yattabare’s apartment and also confiscated eight grams of the illegal narcotic, women’s platform shoes and drug-packing material from Soumah’s apartment.
”There is one accomplice believed to be a Nigerian who is still at large at the moment,” Chen told reporters outside the court.
China’s drug law states that people found guilty of possessing more than 50 grams of illegal drugs could face the death penalty. In 2010, four Japanese nationals were executed by China on drug-trafficking charges.