CHIBA — The Chiba District Court sentenced a British man to 14 years in prison Thursday in a drug-smuggling case that has drawn international condemnation of the Japanese judicial system.
With Nicholas Baker, 32, denying the charges against him, the case has become a political issue, provoking statements in Baker’s defense by British lawmakers and human rights groups.
The district court ruled that Baker tried to smuggle 41,120 tablets of ecstasy and 990 grams of cocaine into Narita airport in April 2002, using a suitcase fitted with a false bottom.
It was the largest-ever single drug haul at Narita, with prosecutors demanding a 15-year prison term.
Following his arrest, Baker consistently told police he had been duped by a companion who flew with him to Japan. He told the court the suitcase belonged to this companion, a fellow Briton.
The other man is in custody in Belgium after he was arrested there in May 2002 for allegedly tricking three other people into carrying drugs for him in a similar ruse, Baker’s supporters told a news conference in Tokyo last month.
Belgian authorities later released the three without charge, they said.
Baker’s supporters, including British lawmakers and a European nongovernmental organization acting on behalf of people accused abroad, believe he was arrested for a crime he never committed.
The British government has demanded that the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry handle the case appropriately, according to European Parliament member Sarah Ludford, who petitioned British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asking him to act on Baker’s behalf.
The movement to help the 32-year-old architect comes amid criticism of the way investigators handled the case.
Ludford argued that they failed to record Baker’s statements, that his lawyer was not present and that the police let the companion leave the airport without interrogating him.
Baker was also placed in solitary confinement for 10 months because he refused to plead guilty, Ludford told the news conference, accusing justice authorities of treating him in an inhuman manner.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.