Prosecutors in China are seeking the death penalty for an Australian jockey who was caught attempting to fly from Guangzhou to Australia with more than three kilograms of crystal meth. According to Australian newspaper The Southern Morning Herald, 43-year-old Anthony Bannister was stopped before boarding a China Southern flight to Sydney on March 11 last year. In his luggage, customs officers found eight handbags stuffed with envelopes of ice.
Bannister insists he had no idea the drugs were in his luggage.
“I do believe that I have been set up … in this drug smuggling scheme,” he said in a Guangzhou court. The trial was held last October, but details from the hearing have only just emerged. “They’ve used me as a mule,” he had said.
Bannister alleges that a trio of scammers identified as “Justin”, “KC” and “John Law” had told him he could obtain a large divorce settlement following the split with his ex-wife, a Filipino woman, SMH explains.
But in a process that became increasingly convoluted, he was told that a series of documents needed to be signed in person in Guangzhou, which resulted in him traveling to the city five times in the space of four months, usually only for a few days at a time.
Each time he would be told that another signature – and therefore another trip to Guangzhou – was required, while the promised “settlement” ballooned from an initial $US60,000 ($78,000) to more than $US1 million.
On his fateful last trip to Guangzhou in March last year, Mr Bannister was informed by “John Law” that his money had arrived, and to bring forward his flight back to Australia. Mr Bannister said “KC” helped reschedule his flights, but inserted a detour to Sydney at the last minute. In a taxi in Guangzhou the night before his flight, “KC” asked Mr Bannister to bring a suitcase with him as a favor. He said he never looked in the suitcase, which contained the drug-filled handbags
Prosecutors say Bannister’s account was “conflicting”, but the suspect’s older brother, James, told reporters that his brother was naive and trusting enough to go through with such a scam.
James said he continued to reason with his brother that the plan was suspicious, but Anthony remained unconvinced. He also provided the Australian Federal Police with a number of emails between his brother and the alleged perpetrators, yet neither the Chinese nor Australian police have contacted him for an interview.
Bannister had taken on a career as a jockey in Adelaide when he was younger, but with such early success and money rolling in, he’d “come off the rails,” his brother said.
He is among nine other Australians who have been charged in China with serious drug offenses. Bengali Sherrif, who was arrested last year, was given a suspended death sentence, which is typically commuted to a life sentence. The others are awaiting either a trial or a verdict.
In January, Paraguayan diplomats called on China to stop the execution of a 31-year-old woman from Paraguay who is facing the death sentence in a China prison following her 2012 arrest for drug trafficking.