Kiwi Tony De Malmanche is facing the firing squad in Indonesia for allegedly smuggling illegal drugs into the country, but his lawyers are reportedly coming up with a novel defence. The 52-year-old Whanganui man’s legal team will convince the court that he was actually a victim of human trafficking, rather than a perpetrator.

De Malmanche was arrested at the Denpasar International Airport in Bali on December 1. Police said he was discovered carrying 1.7 kg of methamphetamine in his bag. He claimed he was travelling to Hong Kong to meet his online girlfriend, who is known as “Jesse.”

His lawyer, barrister Craig Tuck, has formed a specialist team of human rights and legal experts to prove to the court that de Malmanche was a victim, and therefore should not face the death penalty in the country.

The defence will argue that their client was a blind mule for an organised drug smuggling ring. He was also unaware that he was carrying the drugs when he was about to meet his girlfriend. De Malmanche, who had a history of mental illness when he was young, apparently began a three-month relationship with Jesse, who bought him a passport and plane ticket so he could visit her in Hong Kong. The trip was his first overseas.

Jesse’s “personal assistant,” an African man named Larry, helped him obtain a passport. Upon his arrival in Hong Kong, de Malmanche’s suitcase fell apart. Larry bought a bag for him and packed it in his luggage when they visited a market in Guangzhou. Larry told him Jesse was having visa problems so she would just meet him in Bali. That was when he was arrested by Indonesian police.

“Police disclosed that Tony was caught as part of an international sting involving a highly organised and sophisticated multinational criminal drug cartel,” Tuck was quoted by the Herald on Sunday as saying.

De Malmanche’s trial is expected to start in February.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he cannot intervene in de Malmanche’s case. He told RadioLive that may raise concerns about Indonesia’s death penalty, but “In terms of actually intervening in the case, that’s a very different issue.”

If Tuck’s team is unsuccessful in defending de Malmanche, their client would face death penalty by firing squad. Indonesia has just put to death six inmates as part of President Joko Widodo’s resolve to crack drug crimes in the country.