• Kyodo

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The death of a man who allegedly duped his friend into smuggling a record quantity of drugs into Japan in 2002 is unlikely to affect the convicted man’s forthcoming appeal hearing in Tokyo, legal experts said Thursday.

Nick Baker, 33, was sentenced by the Chiba District Court to 14 years in prison in June 2003 for trying to smuggle 41,120 tablets of Ecstasy and 990 grams of cocaine through Narita International Airport in April 2002. It was the largest-ever single drug haul at Narita.

Baker has maintained that the suitcase belonged to his traveling companion, James Prunier, and that he had been duped into carrying it through customs. The drugs were hidden in a false bottom in the case. Prunier, 42, had denied any involvement in smuggling.

On Tuesday, Prunier’s body was found on a railway line near his home in Britain. He apparently committed suicide.

Baker’s legal team said Prunier was due to face charges in Belgium after claims that he duped other people into carrying drugs through customs on his behalf.

Lawyers say Baker’s original trial was unfair because details of the similar case in Belgium were not allowed to be used in his defense.

His team also has concerns about the way police interviewed Baker and the standards of interpretation.

Baker’s legal team will try to present to the appeal court evidence that they have obtained from police in Belgium who were investigating Prunier.

Sarah de Mas, deputy director of Fair Trials Abroad, which has been assisting Baker, said she does not think this latest development will impact on the appeal process in Japan.

“We don’t think Prunier’s death will alter things very much because, to date, he has not been called as a witness, although the Japanese police were very aware of his existence and did follow him and photograph him,” she said.

“But, for reasons best known to themselves, they let him go while Nick Baker was under arrest.”

Baker’s mother, Iris, said she and her son were shocked by the news. She said she expects the appeal process to continue because the original conviction was flawed.

The next hearing is slated for Aug. 31.

She said: “I have been told by the Foreign Office that Nick is devastated by this news, as they were friends. Nicholas is not a vindictive man.”

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