By KATE NEWTON and IAN STEWARD - The Dominion Post
Anti-whaling activists appear to have struck a deal with Japanese officials allowing Pete Bethune to walk free – in return for banning him from future expeditions.
Bethune, 45, who has been in Japanese custody since February after boarding a Japanese whaling ship, was given a two-year suspended sentence in a Tokyo court yesterday.
The suspended sentence means he will not go to jail unless he commits another crime on Japanese soil in the next five years.
He is expected to arrive back in New Zealand on Saturday.
Japanese prosecutors and pro-whalers had pushed for a jail term for the Auckland sailor, who pleaded guilty in May to four charges of illegally boarding the Shonan Maru II, but denied a charge of assault.
Prosecutors said rancid butter that Bethune threw at harpoon ships caused chemical burns to one whaler's face and hurt the eyes of several others.
In June, he was banned from future Sea Shepherd Conservation Society expeditions to the Southern Ocean.
The group's chief executive, Chuck Swift, said at the time that the ban was because Bethune broke Sea Shepherd policy by taking a bow and arrows on to the protest boat Ady Gil, which sank in January after colliding with the Japanese fleet.
However, there are now suggestions that the ban was Sea Shepherd's part of a bargain that saw Bethune walk free.
Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said last night that the organisation knew what the sentence was several days ago, "because we'd already arranged for Pete Bethune's air ticket". He was relieved at the sentence and said the ban on Bethune joining Sea Shepherd's campaigns was because of "a deal" with the Japanese.
He did not elaborate on the terms of the deal and Sea Shepherd would not confirm last night whether the ban was in return for a suspended sentence.
However, Bethune's wife, Sharyn, said that may have been the case. "I've heard that rumour too. Good if they did – it got him home."