A tied and emotional Pete Bethune has told reporters he has English football great Paul Gascoigne to thank for his freedom.
Bethune arrived back in Auckland this morning after receiving a two-year suspended sentence by a Japanese court for his anti-whaling activities.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has claimed a deal brokered with the Japanese ensured that Bethune would be released - a deal Sea Shepherd immediately reneged on in any event.
But Bethune claimed the Japanese only released him because of Gascoigne's last-minute intervention.
Gascoigne, 43, and affectionately known as "Gazza" by football supporters around the world, confirmed he visited the chief judge the day before the Japanese court was due to hand down its sentence. He took with him a six-pack of lager, a bag of crisps and a kebab.
"I thought he might be hungry, like, with all that foreign muck they feed you over here," said Gascoigne.
Gascoigne said he didn't know Bethune personally, but supported what he stood for.
"He's a good lad, is our Petey", said Gascoigne.
Japanese prosecutors have conceded that the England footballer's intervention was the difference between freedom and hard labour for Bethune.
"This man is very big star in Japan," said one prosecution lawyer, who would not be named. "When we hear football great is Bethune's friend we tell judge Kiwi whale-lover not such bad-ass after all.
"He not like in all the pictures though. David Beckham is one ugly man!"