Chinese woman found not guilty of drug trafficking by Hong Kong court after three years of uncertainty
Guangzhou native whose backpack was alleged to contain nearly 2,000 grams of Ice claimed she had been conned to make deliveries for man she trusted
Li Dandan pulled her mother in a tight embrace as soon as she emerged from a Hong Kong court’s cell holding unit, free at last from a drug trafficking case hanging over her head for nearly three years.
Beside them stood prison chaplain Father John Wotherspoon, who had waited anxiously for Li’s release, having spent the past two years helping the Guangzhou native prove her innocence.
“I’m very happy,” he said tearfully after learning of Li’s acquittal. “I’m hoping her case can help the [other drug mules] appeal.”
Wotherspoon since 2013 has been working on a “name and shame” project, identifying and exposing drug lords operating through and in the city. His efforts came as he travelled the world to help drug mules facing trial.
The Roman Catholic priest claimed about 20 mainland women had fallen victim to African drug lords over the past decade – and Li was one of them.
On November 7, 2015, Li was intercepted at Hong Kong International Airport while en route to Malaysia to help deliver clothing samples for her Nigerian boyfriend, IK, who said he would set up business in her home province of Guangdong.
In a backpack she carried were 1,983 grams of crystalline solids stored in a hidden compartment sewn into its linings.
Hong Kong prosecutors said the single mother, now 33, had trafficked 1,934 grams of methamphetamine, a drug more commonly known as Ice, worth HK$580,000 (US$73,900).
But Li told a different story: of a love scam in which she was conned into making deliveries for a man she trusted.
“I dated this Nigerian man because he did not smoke or drink. He struck me as a hardworking person,” she wrote in a letter to Wotherspoon in July 2016. “I could not believe he was a drug trafficker.”
Wotherspoon said Li was highly vulnerable in light of her divorce.
“So when he offered her a relationship, she trusted him,” he said. “She thought he was a real boyfriend.”
To help prove her innocence, Wotherspoon travelled to Malaysia, Bangkok, Thailand, and Guangzhou to track down IK, with the Nigerian’s picture in hand.
He visited the restaurant and hotel where they stayed together, found his address in Malaysia, and passed on the information to Hong Kong police. At trial, he testified for the defence as a character witness.
Meanwhile, Li’s counsel, Leung Chun-keung, argued it was possible his client did not know about the hidden compartment as she was not professionally trained like customs officers to detect abnormalities in bag linings.
On Thursday, Li was found not guilty of drug trafficking by a unanimous jury verdict following a week-long retrial held after the previous jury had returned a split verdict of 4-3.
She cried and clutched both hands at her chest, nodding and bowing to jurors while her family and friends applauded and breathed audible sighs of relief in the public gallery.
“I’m very thankful,” she said after hugging Wotherspoon outside court. “I’ve come a long way in the past three years.”
According to the Department of Justice’s website, the government is prepared under certain circumstances to pay compensation to those who have spent time in custody due to a wrongful conviction or charge. Those who are interested must write to the department.
The government may make an ex gratia payment, but only in exceptional circumstances when a judge, police or other public authority has committed a serious fault causing a wrongful conviction.