China frees Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after Huawei boss released

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig
Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig had been held since December 2018 (Image: AFP)

Two Canadian nationals have been released from Chinese detention and are flying home to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were accused of espionage in 2018, shortly after Canadian police arrested a top Chinese tech executive on a US warrant.

The Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, left Canada earlier today after a deal with US prosecutors.

The detentions have sparked years of diplomatic tensions.

At a news conference, Mr Trudeau said the men had been through “an unbelievably difficult ordeal.”

“It is good news for all of us that they are on their way home to their families,” he added. “For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace.”

The prime minister said both men will arrive in Canada early on Saturday. They are being accompanied by Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China.

Mr Kovrig is a former diplomat employed by International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

Mr Spavor is a founding member of an organisation that facilitates international business and cultural ties with North Korea.

The pair were arrested on spying charges, and in August this year a Chinese court sentenced Mr Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage. There had been no decision in Mr Kovrig’s case.

Critics have accused China of detaining them in retaliation for the arrest of Ms Meng, to use as political bargaining chips. Beijing has always denied this.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the men had suffered “more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention”.

Earlier on Friday, a Canadian judge ordered the release of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, after she reached a deal with US prosecutors over fraud charges against her.

Meng Wanzhou
Meng Wanzhou was arrested during a layover in Vancouver in 2018. While out on bail she lived in Vancouver, Canada.

“Over the past three years my life has been turned upside down,” she told reporters outside the Vancouver courthouse.

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” she continued. “I will never forget all the good wishes I received from people around the world.”

Before her arrest, US prosecutors accused Ms Meng of fraud, alleging that she misled banks into processing transactions for Huawei that broke US sanctions against Iran.

As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, Ms Meng admitted to misleading HSBC about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom, a Hong-Kong based company that operated in Iran.

The US justice department said in statement that it was continuing to prepare for trial against Huawei, which is still on a trade blacklist.

Ms Meng is the elder daughter of billionaire Ren Zhengfei, who set up Huawei in 1987. He also served in the Chinese army for nine years, until 1983, and is a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Huawei itself is now the largest telecom equipment maker in the world. It has faced accusations that Chinese authorities could use its equipment for espionage – allegations it denies.

In 2019, the US imposed sanctions on Huawei and placed it on an export blacklist, cutting it off from key technologies.

The UK, Sweden, Australia and Japan have also banned Huawei, while other countries including France and India have adopted measures stopping short of an outright ban.


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