Japan Today

British 'drug mule' faces 10 years' jail after acquittal overturned


A British man faces 10 years' jail in Japan after his acquittal for smuggling drugs from Africa was overturned, in a case that casts a spotlight on the country's recently reformed legal system.

Japan's Supreme Court rejected claims by 56-year-old Robert Geoffrey Sawyer that he did not know he had 2.5 kilos of illegal stimulants in his luggage when he arrived at Narita Airport from Benin in 2010.

Sawyer's initial trial was conducted under the lay judge system, a relatively new model in Japan where a panel made up of members of the public play the role of inquisitorial judges under the guidance of three professionals.

These lay judges originally found Sawyer not guilty, saying they could not be sure he knew the package he was carrying contained drugs, but prosecutors appealed to the high court, where the acquittal was overturned.

The supreme court issued its ruling on Monday, upholding the high court's decision, with judges saying Sawyer was a knowing drug mule and had almost certainly received directions from his handlers.

"A smuggling organization usually gives a carrier instructions for how to return the luggage, regardless of whether or not it tells the person" that its contents were contraband, said the ruling posted on the supreme court's website.

"The defendant had no company for the trip and no reservations for accommodation as of his arrival in Japan. He also says he had no plans to meet anyone and no itinerary while in Japan," it said.

"It would not be easy for a smuggling organization to collect stimulant drugs from a person displaying such behavior," the court said, adding it agreed with the high court that Sawyer had been given instructions.

Sawyer, identified by Jiji Press news agency reports as a geologist, was given a 10-year sentence and fined five million yen.

The court papers did not say which stimulant was involved in the case.

Until the 2009 introduction of the lay judge system for certain serious offenses, crimes in Japan were tried solely by a panel of professionals. There is no provision for trial by jury.

Previous lay judge panels, which are empowered to decide verdict and sentence, have handed down death penalties, including in 2010 to a defendant who was a minor under local law.

The Japanese legal system is criticized for a heavy reliance on confessions, which contribute to a conviction rate of around 99%, a level campaigners say is artificially high in a system weighted in favor of prosecutors.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, a group representing lawyers, is campaigning to have police interrogations recorded, something that presently does not happen.

© (C) 2013 AFP

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This seems like a case of 'guilty till proven innocent'.

-3 ( +9 / -12 )

drug mule whether they know it or not are usually guilty as charged. You don't accept anything from unknown. Its a basic rule.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

You gotta know not to accept anyone's bags, and close your own tightly. At least he was caught and tried here and not in Indonesia or something.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

My bags are always securely locked up and never leave my sight until they are through check-in. What kind of moron accepts stuff from strangers anyway?

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I would assume this guy is not even in Japan anymore after his acquittal so maybe quite hard to enforce the sentence.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Question. Where has this guy been since being found not guilty in 2010? Will he be rearrested in the uk? Or did japan hold a British citizen in an unlawful manner from the time he was found not guilty until now when the prosecutors got the result they wanted?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

i really don't understand AFPs need to add that info at the end. this man didn't confess to the crime, he claims he didn't know the packages contained drugs. in this case, i think the high court delivered the correct verdict because the circumstantial evidence all point to him being a mule, or a complete idiot.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

In Japan the law is much different than in other places. In Japan you can be held nearly indefinitely if you are suspected of a crime, and you are not permitted the "phone call" so often mentioned in American TV and movies. You can be held for weeks without being allowed to contact your family, and police interrogations are usually performed without legal counsel. No small wonder the conviction rate is so high, many will confess simply so they can call their families and let them know where they are.

Obviously Japan has never heard of "double jeopardy", and has no trouble retrying cases which have been dismissed, or the defendants acquitted.

As for the conviction in this case, Japan and the UK have an extredition treaty. Mr Sawyer will be handed over to Japanese authorities so he can serve out his sentence.

Whatever Mr Sawyer was carrying must have been pretty bad, the Japanese usually don't bother to prosecute foreigners for drug crimes, they find it less costly simply to deport them with a lifetime ban against returning.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

Oh I can accept if he is handed over but if he was held without charge for 3 years... That's wrong.

The article says 2.5kg of drugs. Hard to believe he didn't know they were there. Although benefit of the doubt and all that.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

This isn`t relevant to the question of his guilt or innocence, but this case raises the question of why Japan even has a lay judge system if its findings of fact can simply be overturned by professional judges on appeal.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

10 years jail sentence is much better than death penalty.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

2.5kg and 56 year old coming here with one way ticket and no prearranged hotel.... I would agree with police on this one... just sounds too fishy

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Why would a middle-aged geologist try to peddle "stimulants," which aren't worth that much money anyway. Was he planning to hand them over in Japan, or was he on a layover?

Did someone allegedly hand him the drugs? If he was a "mule" the who was he working for? What was his alibi?

Too many unanswered questions in this one.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

drug dealers and drug smugglers are the scum of the earth. I would give him 20, to set an example.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

10 years just for carrying drugs. Not poison. Not bombs. But drugs.

Man if people want to do drugs the government needs to shove off. I mean regulate them sure, but just saying "No!" like an imperious father is right out. We are adults are we not?

And even if sided with the idea that drugs need to banned, still 10 years just for transporting them is still out of the question.

-9 ( +5 / -14 )

Its stimulants.... not the green harmless kind... roughly same as weapon... he is lucky he only gets 10years and not shot like he would be in most asian countries.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Almost certainly?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My bags are always securely locked up and never leave my sight until they are through check-in.

Last time I flew from a US airport I wasn't allowed to lock my bags, wasn't happy about that at all. Not that I distrust 'merkans......

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Loads of misinformation on this thread:

I don't care how carefully you watch your bags, there are plenty of opportunities for someone to slip stuff into them. A few years ago this very newspaper had a headline where the Japanese Police were appealing for anyone who found drugs in their bags to please give them back to the police. It turned out that the J-cops (geniuses that they are) were testing their sniffer dogs by placing packets of marijuana in random bags and seeing if the dogs could find them. The dogs didn't. Several passengers went home with packets of marijuana and, given the unsympathetic reaction of J-cops to someone arriving and saying, "Umm, I found this in my luggage", didn't report them to the police.

... so, step 1, maybe the J-cops should check if they're missing 2.5kgs of stimulants from their evidence locker?

There's a common misconception that you're not allowed counsel or contact with outsiders when you're arrested in Japan. This is untrue, read the criminal procedure act (here's a link to a translation http://www.oecd.org/site/adboecdanti-corruptioninitiative/46814489.pdf) specifically articles 30, 39 and 42. I don't know where this myth arose from, but if you're even SUSPECTED of being involved in a crime you have the right to lawyer up.

As for this case, I agree that it is highly unlikely that a drug dealer would put drugs in the bags of a man when they had NO idea where he was going. However, I would also submit that drug dealers henchmen aren't anywhere near the top, or even middle, of the IQ scales, and so they might well have messed up and put the drugs in the wrong suitcase.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

dont trust anyone asking to transport stuff in your luggage ...you'd be surprised how smart, cunning, sophisticated and creative some drug dealers are...reason why most drug dealers are rich.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

GobshiteOct. 23, 2013 - 08:05PM JST "My bags are always securely locked up and never leave my sight until they are through check-in." Last time I flew from a US airport I wasn't allowed to lock my bags, wasn't happy about that at all. Not that I >distrust 'merkans......

Get luggage that have the TSA approved locks. You can lock your baggage and if TSA need to open them they can do so without breaking it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Why would a middle-aged geologist try to peddle "stimulants," which aren't worth that much money anyway.

Not being familiar with the going price, I looked to Nikkei Shimbun to find out that stimulants (meth) go for 70,000 yen per gram. 5500 grams x 70,000=175 million yen. I am sure the mule's cut is a lot less, but probably more than what I could make for a couple days "work."

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@knowitall: if the figure you posted is not a typo then I would say the salary men at the nikkei shinbun need to put down the pipe!

@frungy: when detained in japan, your rights and your reality become two very different things.

@japan today: the lead detective didn't share this story with the media when it was going down? it wasn't newsworthy? what's the backstory here?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Double jeopardy is a procedural defence that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction. In common law countries, a defendant may enter a peremptory plea of autrefois acquit or autrefois convict (autrefois means "in the past" in French), meaning the defendant has been acquitted or convicted of the same offence. ,,,, Since he was not axauitted yet, his attorney can not claim double jeopardy. Also, Supreme court did not hand innocent verdict so, no chance for double jeopardy. Do you guys know many drug cartels dhoose older man withtight lips to become carrier of narco? Promise of travel expense and income for his family, etc. The organizations have many layers that carrier does not know who is giving such luxury life to his family. I don;t know BK or Japan but I watch too many USA news.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One point that is very interesting is the usage of the word, "usually", when talking about the return of luggage. Well, maybe, just maybe this was one unusual case.

The other interesting part was:

It would not be easy for a smuggling organization to collect stimulant drugs from a person displaying such behavior

But, "not easy", doesn't necessarily mean impossible, does it? Or does it?

Sounds like the prosecution was out to get this guy, whether he was guilty or innocent.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It seems Japan has Jury system now. So, appeal after appeal. Double Jeorpardy do not apply because supreme court is not the original court. Innocent until proven guilty stage now. BTW, can you trust Airport Security Check in Afrrica and Japan? In USA, a few days ago, a vey young boy came from Minnesota to Las Vegas. He was caught at LasVegas (McCarran Airoort) thank goodness it uses different type of security clearance because of very many visitors from all over the world. Do Japan use x-ray type gadget that detect drug packages?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

At least he is luck that he is not in other Asia countries, some of them you get death sentence. Always check the luggage and never carry any "present" for anyone. If really need to carry present for someone, then open up the present and check it. In other words, trusts no one but yourself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

melonadeOct. 23, 2013 - 09:42PM JST @frungy: when detained in japan, your rights and your reality become two very different things.

If you don't ask you won't get, and the cops certainly won't be volunteering to call a lawyer for you. I agree that they'll probably try and convince you that you're not entitled to a lawyer and even flat-out lie, but knowing your rights (and when they're being violated) is important, and can give you leverage you badly need. Part of the reason that the j-cops are so successful is misconceptions like the idea that you're all alone and don't have the right to see anyone and don't have access to legal representation. The j-cops interrogation method very much relies on isolating the suspect and then stockholm syndrome setting in so that you begin to sympathise with them, even when it is not in your best interests. Knowing that you're not alone, and that you are entitled to a lawyer and that the cops are acting illegally in denying you one is useful and practical knowledge.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It could be just symbolic but it's a good message for other foreign mules trying to enter Japan,"Don't even think about it!".

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The lay judge system is scary. I'd much rather entrust my fate to a group of trained professionals than laymen who may or may not like my face.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Actual guilt or innocence aside, I don't see the point of the 2009 legal reforms if the high court will just disregard a jury's decision. It's the jury that saw the facts and should be deferred to unless there was absolutely no way in hell any rational juror could have occluded as they did.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

so i am walking into the airport and someone i don't know asks me to take his luggage to another country. i arrive in the other country- have no plans, no reservations for a hotel or an idea as to what i want to do. oh and i still did not check the bags- good thing nothing happened during the flight!

c'mon - taking anything from a stranger is not really a good thing nowadays...

3 ( +4 / -1 )

If you don't ask you won't get,

Even if you do get a lawyer, the police are legally allowed to question you without the presence of said lawyer.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Mumbi rocks:

" Anyways, sucks to spend the best later years of his life in a Japanese jail. "

I disagree. He will be fed and taken care of well at the expense of my taxes, and will have learned Japanese when they let him go... still alive and in one piece-

If he had tried the same stunt in Singapore or Malaysia, he would dangle from a rope. He should count his blessings.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Its stimulants.... not the green harmless kind... roughly same as weapon...

Alex Einz--Right. As if mass murders are committed on the street with bags of stimulants. Like stimulants accidentally go off in your hand and kill your brother. Like somebody used a stimulant pill to rob 7-11.

Certain energy drinks which are legal in other countries are illegal in Japan and I believe classified as stimulants under Japan's insane narco law. And the article says quite clearly:

The court papers did not say which stimulant was involved in the case.

So all we can be sure of is that it was not caffeine or nicotine.

I don't even drink alcohol anymore. But I cannot believe how many of you want the government to be your papa so much that you would support 10 years jail just for being a mule.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Stimulants are typically referred when its Cocaine or Meth , Most likely meth... that is nastiest chemically produced shit ever ..just look at any rural american town... its worse than weapons and gets you as hooked as hell very fast. I am not against recreational uses but not this Nazi invented crap.... and yes, lack of it would cause you to rob even your mother at knife point.

Anyway, nobody comes to japan on one way ticket and without prearranged pace to stay... ,its likely he just dont want to tell for fear of repercussion by the people who put him up to it in the fist place.... and 56 years geologist... well thats not a high paying job, and economy aint what it used to be, gotta feed your family

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Actual guilt or innocence aside, I don't see the point of the 2009 legal reforms if the high court will just disregard a jury's decision.

Introducing the jury system was only to mute the international criticism of the barbaric Japanese justice system. Everyone knows that in reality Japanese senior figures (read Judges in this case) never make mistakes and are perfect in every way right? So, introduce juries, amnesty international et al will be quiet for a while, then overturn every decision the jury makes that doesn't satisfy the overlord. Then just hope the detractors don't notice.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

ControlFreakOct. 24, 2013 - 04:23AM JST Certain energy drinks which are legal in other countries are illegal in Japan and I believe classified as stimulants under Japan's insane narco law. And the article says quite clearly:

Japan's narco laws are actually reasonably sane and were probably made by someone with a background in chemistry, medicine or with a good understanding of how street drugs are made. Or maybe they just watched a few episodes of "Breaking Bad".

Stimulants like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are commonly found in diet pills, some cold medications, and many other over-the-counter medications in the U.S., but are banned in Japan. In the U.S. there's a limit on how many you can buy in many states.

Why? Because drug dealers buy these medications to get the stimulants so they can use them to make more dangerous drugs like meth.

Why import stimulants rather than the finished meth? Well, for a lot of reasons. A couple kilograms of ephedrine can be turned into dozen of kilograms of meth, so it is more efficient, smaller and lower risk than carrying the finished product. It is also harder on the dogs. Dogs can only be trained to smell for a limited range of substances, and not so long ago they were trained to sniff for the finished product, not the ingredients.

I do agree with you ControlFreak that 10 years for the mule is a bit extreme. Mules are generally regarded as expendable by the dealers, and there have been plenty of cases where dealers deliberately let one mule get caught so that in the confusion 2 or 3 more mules could slip by. I agree this guy needs to be punished, but I'd much rather see him get a reduced sentences in exchange for any information he could provide about the dealer.

... assuming he's guilty that is.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Fishing boats and container ships, submarines are called "Drug mules" moving to Southern Asia. Like QilliB commented, drug couriers and dealers will get hash sentence (like stabbed, hung, etc cruel way after tortured() so couriers seems to go direct to Japan thinking Japanese cops do not torture. The guy is from Africa to Japan. Cocaines are from Colombia and Bolivia to go to Africa, then South Asia, Iran but instead of going to scary South Asia, directly went to Japan? Unlike China, Korea, Japan or USA, many African countries have drug business to increase their GDP. At least Japanese politicians are not drug lord. This guy is from Africa to Japan. Young punks are not used as courier so my guess is he is a courier who avoided South Asia.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

"at the expense of my taxes" Convicted prisoners in Japan work. Doing things like assembling phones (at least in the case of the 3 Okinawa gang rapists from the 1995 incident). That work helps defray the costs of their very meager meals, guards, salaries, etc. The exception is prisoners on death row. They are the full drain on your taxes.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just deport him and ban him from entering Japan permanently.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I swear I saw this episode on Locked Up Abroad a few months ago

3 ( +3 / -0 )

One less to POISON our society by either loading the sick addicted losers with drugs or/and introducing it to our innocent children! 10 years is suitable for someone who doesn't care for anyone's life!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yeah, when I was in Chiba Detention Center a few years back a Polish guy said the same thing. "I didn't know there was anything there"! but 5~6 kilo's of hashish strapped to one's leg....ummmmm

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Although accepting the "didn't know" excuse would in practice be carte blanche for mules, I had an acquaintance who when he arrived home and opened his luggage to his surprise discovered a Chinese persons credit card there. In fact since 9/11 suitcases can no longer be locked; suitcases are constantly being opened and something could be placed inside accidentally or even intentionally. The only fair thing to do is have a neutral zone near the luggage pickup where people can search own their luggage themselves, and request customs help if suspicious,

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I do not know the particulars of this case regarding whether the defendant has been in jail this whole time since being arrested in 2010. However, it is certainly possible that this is the case, even if he was found innocent in the original trial. If a person's visa expires while in jail, they are then also charged with overstaying without a visa, which can also carry jail time. In this case, I am assuming that as a UK citizen, he was attempting to enter on a 6 month tourist visa. So, if the time between his arrest and his first trial was more than that, he could have still been in jail for overstaying when his verdict was overturned. Being further charged with more jail time for overstaying a visa while being incarcerated is fairly common in Japan. Again, I am not familiar with the specifics as they seem to be lacking in both Japanese and English articles I have read.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the guy is guilty as hell, but to be fair, the logic of this escapes me:

“The defendant had no company for the trip and no reservations for accommodation as of his arrival in Japan. He also says he had no plans to meet anyone and no itinerary while in Japan,” it said.

When I was backpacking years ago, I used to arrive in a country in exactly the same way. It is not this that makes him suspicious, it is 2.5kgs of drugs that does. That is a lot to be carrying and not knowing about it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Backpacking at 56?

And maybe it has been way too long ago, but today most airlines will not even put you on the flight without a return ticket unless you have a valid resident visa for a foreign country, they do it because they rather not be forced to take care of you when immigration denies your entry.

And yes there are backpacking countries that have lenient regulations about coming on your own with a backpack, but its a common knowledge that Japan aint one of em., in fact they specifically require a hotel booking or a contact for lodging to grant entry.

Not knowing this at 56... is beyond any excuses

I dont get why people protect him, he is a drug mule of the worst kind... meth...that directly contributes to traffic accidents, theft, and other crimes... only the worst of junkies do that stuff...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yes, backpacking at 56 - clearly you have never been a backpacker - there are people of all ages travelling.

Airlines will allow you to fly with an onward ticket - you dont have to have a return ticket.

Its not hard to get a contact for lodging - and it doesnt say that he didnt have this - just no actual reservation. A lot f people on arrival will come into town and look round the hostels for a decent place to stay.

I am not protecting him. He is guilty as hell. It is obvious and he deserves everything he gets. But I disagree with them using his method of travel to convict him. the drugs alone should have been enough.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have never been a backpacker... yea ok...except maybe 6+ years or so.... No airline today will allow you to travel with onward ticket only if you don't have a prearranged visa or a passport granting you one automatically and that a very big if.... most likely they will force you to be a full price ticket ( with a refund option )

The article mention that he did not have any itinerary as well, meaning no contact for lodging , he basically arrived and was supposed to be either picked up or had a reservation he did not want to disclose.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

All my tax money spent on that trial only for the verdict to be over turned. You can fly into many countries showing only an onward reservation print out. Actual tickets not required since everything is electronic. Anyway, better in a Japanese prison than a U.S. Prison. And yes, better than "hanging around" in Singapore or Malaysia.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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