Prime Minister John Key says he cannot intervene in the case of a New Zealand man facing the death penalty in Indonesia for alleged drug smuggling.

Tony de Malmanche, 52, was on his first trip out of New Zealand when he was arrested in Indonesia last month for allegedly trying to smuggle 1.7kg of methamphetamine into the country.

Mr Key told RadioLive today he "may be prepared" to raise concerns about the death penalty with Indonesia's Government.

"In terms of actually intervening in the case, that's a very different issue."


Mr Key said Kiwis would not take kindly to Indonesia interfering in a New Zealand court case.

De Malmanche's legal team has suggested organised criminals "played" and conned their client.

His Tauranga-based lawyer Craig Tuck told the Herald on Sunday de Malmanche had a history of mental illness and had spent more than three years in institutional care at a young age.

Tuck said de Malmanche had developed a strong Christian faith and was trying to meet someone to share his life with when he was detained by Customs and Police in Bali for three days before being paraded before the Indonesian media.

"Police disclosed that Tony was caught as part of an international sting involving a highly organised and sophisticated multinational criminal drug cartel," Mr Tuck said.

He said de Malmanche's legal team would now try to convince the three Indonesian judges at his trial that he was a victim rather than a perpetrator of trafficking.

Tuck said the case had global implications and if successful, could spell a major shift in drug trafficking cases worldwide. The trial is likely to start next February.

Tuck will lead a team including senior Indonesian human rights lawyers and two legal professors. They have hired investigators who are trying to find the cartel's ringleaders, who they believe span Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Indonesia has just put to death five foreigners and one local woman convicted of drugs offences.

De Malmanche is one of several New Zealanders facing drug trafficking charges overseas.

Peter Gardner was arrested in China in November allegedly with 30kg of pure methamphetamine in his luggage.