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Top court voids acquittal of British drug smuggler

Kyodo

The Supreme Court has quashed an appeal by a British man convicted of smuggling stimulant drugs into Japan from the west African country of Benin in June 2010, letting stand a high court’s overturning of his acquittal in a lay judge trial.

Robert Geoffrey Sawyer, 56, faces 10 years in prison and a ¥5 million fine for bringing 2.5 kg of stimulants in a suitcase to Narita International Airport. He pleaded not guilty.

The focus of the trial was on whether Sawyer was aware he was carrying the illegal stimulants. He argued in court that he had not received any instructions from a smuggling organization.

Normally a smuggling ring would issue specific instructions to the person in charge of transporting the contraband on how to handle and recover the luggage, the top court’s First Petty Bench said in its ruling issued Monday.

Barring special circumstances, in a case like this it can be assumed based on an “empirical rule” that the person who was asked to transport the goods was such given instructions, the top court said.

A panel of six citizen judges and three professional judges at the Chiba District Court ruled that Sawyer could have been unaware of the drugs in the luggage, adding it is impossible to say there is no way for a smuggling ring to recover the contraband without instructing him on the smuggling operation.

In validating the Tokyo High Court’s judgment that Sawyer was aware he may have been carrying stimulants, the top court said jurors at the first trial failed to properly apply the empirical rule.