Canadians Kovrig and Spavor released by China after Huawei CFO resolves U.S. charges

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are on their way back to Canada after being detained in China for nearly three years.

Trudeau told a news conference Friday evening on Parliament Hill that Kovrig and Spavor, who have become known in Canada and around the world as the "two Michaels," were on a plane that left China, accompanied by Canadian ambassador Dominic Barton.

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"We have worked tirelessly for the past two and a half years to get them home," he said.

"I know Canadians are very happy that these two citizens that we've thought of so many times over the past 1,000 days are now on their way home."

The news came hours after Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou walked free out of a British Columbia Supreme Court, when a judge agreed to a discharge order that withdrew a U.S. extradition request against her.

The Huawei executive was originally detained in Vancouver in December 2018 at the behest of the U.S., where a 13-count grand jury indictment accused the company and Meng, the daughter of the company's founder Ren Zhengfei, of misrepresenting their ownership of Hong Kong-based subsidiary Skycom between 2007 and 2017 in order to circumvent American sanctions on Iran.

Meng's discharge followed a virtual appearance in a New York courtroom where she pleaded not guilty to all charges and the judge signed off on a deferred prosecution agreement.

China has publicly maintained that there was no connection between her case and the the two Michaels' imprisonment, but had also dropped broad hints that if she were allowed to go free, that could benefit the two Canadians.

Assistant U.S. attorney David Kessler told the New York court the agreement would allow for the charges against Meng to be dismissed after Dec. 1, 2022 — four years from the date of her arrest — provided that she complied with all her obligations under the terms of the deal.

"Should the offices pursue the prosecution that is deferred by this agreement, Meng stipulates to the admissibility of the statement of facts ... in any proceeding against her," he said.

"Meng further agrees that she and her lawyers, and representatives authorized to speak on her behalf, will not make any statements after entry into this agreement that may contradict any of the facts in the statement of facts."

The U.S. statement of facts spells out the thrust of the allegations against Meng — essentially, that she portrayed Skycom, which operated primarily in Iran, as a separate and distinct business partner when it was for all intents and purposes a wholly owned subsidiary.

"As Meng knew, Skycom was not a business partner of, or a third party working with, Huawei," the document says. "Instead, Huawei controlled Skycom, and Skycom employees were really Huawei employees."

Huawei and Skycom were also charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and violating the U.S. International Emergency Economic Powers Act — the sanctions law. The status of those charges remained unclear.

A statement from Canada's Department of Justice after the U.S. hearing said there was no longer a basis for the extradition proceedings against her.

"Meng Wanzhou is free to leave Canada," the statement said. "Meng Wanzhou was afforded a fair process before the courts in accordance with Canadian law. This speaks to the independence of Canada's judicial system."

Meng appeared in person in the B.C. Supreme Court on Friday afternoon where Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes signed the order discharging her, vacating her bail conditions and officially closing the Canadian case against her.

"You have been co-operative and courteous throughout the proceedings and the court appreciates and thanks you for that," Holmes told Meng.

"Thank you, my lady," Meng answered.

In a statement outside the court, Meng thanked the judge, the Crown lawyers and the Canadian people for their tolerance.

"Sorry for the inconvenience," she said.

Meng also noted how her life has been turned "upside down" by the case. She said she appreciated the court for its professionalism and the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law.

"It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and a company executive," Meng said. "But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life. The greater the difficulty, the greater the growth."

The Huawei executive's arrest three years ago saw relations between Canada and China deteriorate and a cascade of effects including the arrest of the two Canadian men.

Kovrig is a Canadian diplomat on leave to the International Crisis Group, a peace-building non-governmental organization. Spavor is an entrepreneur who tried to forge people and business ties to North Korea. They were detained on Dec. 10, 2018.

Earlier this year, Kovrig and Spavor were both convicted of spying in closed Chinese courts — a process that Canada and dozens of allies said amounts to arbitrary detention on bogus charges in a closed system of justice with no accountability.

Spavor received an 11-year sentence, while Kovrig had yet to be sentenced.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021.

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Earlier story

NEW YORK — Two Canadians detained in China on spying charges have been released from prison and flown out of the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday, hours after a top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies resolved criminal charges against her in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department.

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. extradition request. Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics.”

The deal with Meng calls for the Justice Department to dismiss fraud charges late next year in exchange for Meng accepting responsibility for misrepresenting her company’s business dealings in Iran. Trudeau called a news conference Friday night about an hour after Meng’s plane left Canada for China.

The arrangement with Meng, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, resolves a yearslong legal and geopolitical tussle that involved not only the U.S. and China but also Canada, where Meng has remained since she was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018.

The deal was reached as President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have sought to tamp down signs of public tension — even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights and trade and tariffs. Biden said in an address before the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week that he had no intention of starting a “new Cold War,” while Xi told world leaders that disputes among countries “need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation.”

As part of the deal, disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss the fraud charges against Meng in December 2022 — exactly four years after her arrest — provided that she complies with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations. The Justice Department also agreed to drop its request that Meng be extradited to the U.S., which she had vigorously challenged, ending a process that prosecutors said could have persisted for months.

Meng’s attorneys said they fully expect the charges to be dismissed in 14 months. “We’re very pleased that in the meantime she can go home to her family,” said defense lawyer Michelle Levin.

After appearing via videoconference for her New York hearing, Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver, where she has been out on bail and living in her mansion since her arrest. The court released her from all her bail conditions and she is now free to leave the country.

Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed gratitude to the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience I caused.”

“Over the last three years my life has been turned upside down,” she said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and as a company executive. But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes I received.”

Shortly afterward, Meng left on an Air China flight for Shenzhen, China, the location of Huawei’s headquarters.

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a technological world power — and a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns. Some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms and stolen technology.

The case against Meng stems from a January 2019 indictment from the Trump administration Justice Department that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The indictment also charged Meng herself with committing fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

The indictment came amid a broader Trump administration crackdown against Huawei over U.S. government concerns that the company’s products could facilitate Chinese spying. The administration cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology, including Google’s music and other smartphone services, and later barred vendors worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.

The Biden White House, meanwhile, has kept up a hard line on Huawei and other Chinese corporations whose technology is thought to pose national security risks.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and security concerns about its products.

Meng had long fought the Justice Department’s extradition request, with her lawyers calling the case against her flawed and alleging that she was being used as a “bargaining chip” in political gamesmanship. They cited a 2018 interview in which then-President Donald Trump said he’d be willing to intervene in the case if it would help secure a trade deal with China or aid U.S. security interests.

Last month, a Canadian judge held off on ruling whether Meng should be extradited to the U.S. after a Canadian Justice Department lawyer wrapped up his case saying there was enough evidence to show she was dishonest and deserved to stand trial in the U.S.

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Tucker reported from Washington and Gillies from Toronto. Associated Press writer Jim Morris in Vancouver, Canada, contributed to this report.

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