BEIJING Four foreigners may face execution in China over a big seizure of heroin, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Thursday, after China and Britain clashed over the execution of a Briton found guilty of drug smuggling.
The four were among nine people arrested over 144.5 kg (318.6 pounds) of heroin found by police in Shenzhen, the far southern Chinese commercial city next to Hong Kong, in August, the Beijing-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported.
"Under Chinese law they may face the most extreme penalty," said the report, which cited Shenzhen officials.
It did not specify the nationality of the four foreign suspects, who were arrested in September after detectives uncovered and then tracked the shipment of drugs from Pakistan.
The disclosure came after China executed a British national, Akmal Shaikh, on Tuesday for smuggling heroin, and highlights China's role as a market and shipment point for illegal narcotics.
Shaikh's family and the British government decried his death, saying Chinese courts ignored evidence he was mentally ill and had been duped by a smuggling gang.
The latest case involved high-grade heroin in 289 bags hidden in bales of cotton. Police lay in wait for the smugglers at a warehouse in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, after tracker dogs uncovered the haul following a tip-off.
Authorities may have revealed the big heroin seizure now to counter criticism over the execution of Shaikh, a former businessman arrested in far west China in 2007 after he tried to bring 4 kg (8.8 pounds) of heroin into the country.
China has harsh penalties against narcotics, but it also lies near some of the world's biggest opium-production areas.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim and Dean Yates)