A Chinese court has handed a “suspended death sentence” to Anthony Bannister, 43, who was arrested and charged for attempting to smuggle 3kg of crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “ice”, from China to Australia in March last year.
The verdict means that if Bannister, a jockey in South Australia, commits no crimes in prison over the next two years, his death sentence can be commuted to life imprisonment.
Bannister’s brother, James, told The Advertiser that the family was “relieved with the news”.
“We understand Australia has a prisoner-exchange program with China, so there is still some hope one day Anthony can come home,” he said.
“We haven’t been allowed to talk to him since his arrest. We send letters through the Australian consulate, but that’s all we’ve had.
“Now we have a sentence, it should be possible for us to talk and perhaps even go and see him, depending on the prison rules.”
Anthony Bannister, who has top Australian jockeys Tommy Berry, Dwayne Dunn and Clare Lindop among his Facebook friends, was arrested at Guangzhou airport when customs officers detected drugs, worth more than $1 million, stuffed in eight ladies’ handbags packed in his luggage.
He pleaded his innocence, insisting he was an “unwitting mule” in an elaborate smuggling scam perpetrated by three men he named as “Justin”, “KC” and “John Law”.
The scam surrounded a supposed alimony settlement Mr Bannister was told he would be receiving from his annulled marriage to a Filipino woman he met while riding trackwork in Japan.
James Bannister — who has been sending regular payment to China to pay ongoing bills — said the Australian Government was organising a loan to support his brother, who faces considerable ongoing costs of incarceration.
The conditions Mr Bannister has faced in prison are understood to have affected his health.
“They are feeding him regularly, but we’ve heard it’s not much more that rice,” his brother added.
“He’s lost a few kgs and when you only weigh 50kgs you can’t afford to drop too many more.”
Mr Bannister said the family would consider appealing any verdict.
Source: Perth Now, Craig Cook, June 18, 2015
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