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Friday, Oct. 28, 2005

Briton has sentence for drug-smuggling reduced to 11 years

Staff writer

The Tokyo High Court on Thursday reduced a sentence handed down by a lower court, giving a 34-year-old British man 11 years in prison and fining him 3 million yen for smuggling drugs into Japan.

Nicholas Baker was arrested in April 2002 for possession of 41,120 tablets of Ecstasy and 990 grams of cocaine. The drugs were found at Narita airport in a suitcase with a false bottom that was checked in under Baker's name.

Baker had insisted he was innocent throughout both trials, saying was duped by his traveling companion, a fellow Briton who owned the suitcase.

According to Baker's defense team, the traveling companion was involved in a similar incident in Belgium and used tactics similar to the ones he allegedly used on Baker.

However, the Chiba District Court convicted the man from Gloucestershire and sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment and fined him 5 million yen. He appealed.

On Thursday, presiding Judge Kenjiro Tao ruled Baker had been part of a drug-smuggling ring and conspired with others to commit the crimes.

Tao said it was hard to believe Baker's claims that the suitcase was not his, particularly as more than half of the items in the suitcase belonged to him.

The defense counsel had argued that there was doubt about the accuracy of the interpreters' translations during police interrogations and during the district court trial.

The defense had submitted to the court a professional interpreter's evaluation of the interpretation done during the first trail. The report says many mistakes were made and some statements were abbreviated.

However, the judge said there was no doubt about the interpreters' skills since they were all professionals and had attained the highest level of the Eiken English language proficiency test or qualified as tour guide interpreters.

Tao said he reduced Baker's sentence because 14 years' imprisonment was too long considering his relatively small role in the drug-smuggling organization.

After the ruling, Baker's chief lawyer, Shunji Miyake, expressed his disappointment.

"It is deeply regrettable that everything we argued in court was dismissed," he said. "Being able to hear and speak English is completely different from having the knowledge to interpret accurately."

Miyake welcomed the reduction of the sentence, but said it was still relatively heavy considering the amount of drugs Baker was convicted of smuggling.

Baker's mother, Iris, who was in Japan for the sentencing, expressed her sadness and disbelief over the ruling.

"I was totally amazed that nothing seemed to have changed from the Chiba (district) court," she said, adding that she was especially disappointed over how the judge ruled that a person qualified as a tour-guide interpreter was skilled enough to act as a courtroom interpreter.

"This is a man's life," she said. "If that is the standard of an interpreter in a court today, I feel sorry for anybody else who has to go before these judges . . . Just like Nick, they are not going to get a fair trial."

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The Japan Times

Article 8 of 13 in National news

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