Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that two Canadian nationals, who spent almost 1,000 days in Chinese prison cells, have been released and are returning to Canada.
The news about the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — who were detained in China on spying charges — came only after Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies, flew to China upon reaching an agreement with American authorities over fraud charges.
Both the Canadians were accused of espionage in 2018 soon after Meng, who is Huawei Technologies' chief financial officer and the daughter of the Chinese telecom giant’s founder, was arrested by Canadian police on a warrant issued by the United States.
Years of diplomatic issues have emerged between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa as a result of these detentions. Earlier, critics accused China of holding the Canadians as a political negotiating chip in revenge for Meng's detention. But Beijing has rejected such claims.
The three-way agreement allowed China and Canada to return their own jailed citizens while the United States closed a criminal case against a senior tech executive from Huawei that had been stalled for months due to an extradition dispute.
How It Happened
On 24 September afternoon (local time), Meng reached an arrangement with federal prosecutors that called for fraud charges against her to be dropped next year and her immediate return to China.
She took responsibility for misrepresenting the company's commercial dealings in Iran, as part of the deal with American authorities, known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
An hour after Meng's plane left Canada for China, Trudeau announced that Canadians Spavor and Kovrig were also on their way home.
While announcing the release, the Canadian PM said: “These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that.”
According to Trudeau, both men will arrive in Canada on 25 September and Dominic Barton, who is Canada's ambassador to China, is accompanying them.
Kovrig is a former diplomat who now works with the International Crisis Group in Brussels and Spavor is a founding member of a group that promotes international trade and cultural exchange with North Korea.
Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison for espionage by a Chinese court in August this year, while in Kovrig's case, no decision had been reached.
The latest agreement was achieved as the United States President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping sought to reduce public tensions — although the world's two most powerful economies are at differences on a range of issues including cybersecurity, human rights and trade.
Antony Blinken, America’s Secretary of State, said in a statement: “The United States Government stands with the international community in welcoming the decision by People’s Republic of China authorities to release Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention. We are pleased that they are returning home to Canada.”
According to the deal, the Justice Department agreed to drop the fraud charges against Meng in 2022 December if she met certain conditions, including not fighting any of the government's factual accusations. It also decided to drop its request that Meng be extradited to the United States.
As per the accusations against Meng, she deceived banks into processing transactions for Huawei that violated sanctions by the United States against Iran.
She agreed to misleading HSBC about Huawei's link with Skycom, a Hong Kong-based business that operated in Iran, as part of a deferred prosecution arrangement.
However, in a statement, the Justice Department said it was continuing to prepare for a trial against Huawei.
Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver on 24 September after her New York hearing. Outside the courtroom, during a press meet, the Hauwei CFO said: “Over the past 3 years my life has been turned upside down. It was a disruptive time for me, as a mother, a wife and a company executive… It really was an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes I received.”
She commended the Canadian government for maintaining the rule of law, thanked the Canadian people and apologised "for the inconvenience” she caused.
However, as per the reports, Meng had been out on bail and living in a multimillion-dollar mansion in Vancouver, while the two Canadians were being imprisoned in Chinese prisons with the lights turned on 24 hours a day.
After a Canadian Justice Department lawyer closed up his argument last month, stating there was enough evidence to indicate Meng was dishonest and deserved to stand trial in the United States, a Canadian court postponed judgement on whether she should be extradited to the United States.
It was said that Meng could face up to 30 years imprisonment if she was convicted in the United States.
But as China wanted, negotiations happened on their terms and Meng got a window to leave all these behind. According to reports, after meeting the press, she boarded an Air China flight to Shenzhen, where Huawei's headquarters are located.
Huawei is the world's largest supplier of network equipment to telecommunications and internet services. The tech giant has served as a symbol of China's progress toward becoming a technological world power, but it is also considered as the subject of security and law enforcement concerns in the United States.
According to some researchers, Chinese corporations have broken international standards and stolen technology.
Huawei was sanctioned and placed on an export blacklist by the United States in 2019, thus cutting it off from vital technologies. The United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia and Japan have all banned Huawei, while France and India have taken measures that fall short of complete bans.
According to a recent Reuters report, Lithuania’s National Cyber Centre released a report which revealed that along with several Chinese smartphones, a security flaw was found in the P40 5G phone by Huawei.
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