Two Canadians detained in China on charges of espionage for the last two and a half years have been freed are finally heading home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday.
Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were released from prison as part of a three-way swap deal between Canada, China and the US.
“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal,” Trudeau said. “For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that.”
Their release came just after Meng Wanzhou — the finance chief of Chinese telecom giant Huawei who was arrested in Canada in December 2018 — was allowed to return home as part of a deal with the US Department of Justice.
Spavor and Kovrig were nabbed in China, shortly after Canada’s arrest of Meng on a US extradition request. Meng was later released from jail but forbidden from leaving the country, enraging the Chinese government. Many countries labeled China’s action as “hostage politics.”
Michael Kovrig – along with Michael Spavor – was released from a prison in China as part of Canada’s swap with China and the US. AP
Meng — the 49-year-old daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and a powerful member of Chinese high society — was accused of violating US sanctions by misleading the bank HSBC about the extent of the company’s ties to Iran, which is on a US sanctions list. Meng and Huawei denied the accusations.
Under the deal between Meng and the Department of Justice, she will be released on personal recognizance, and the US plans to drop an extradition request it had filed in Canada.
“The US 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,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
A Chinese court had sentenced businessman Michael Spavor to spend 11 years in prison this past August. AP
Spavor, a businessman who introduced North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to former NBA star Dennis Rodman, was sentenced by a Chinese court in August to 11 years behind bars for espionage, prompting Trudeau to step up Canada’s efforts to have its citizens returned.
The two Canadians were reportedly held in Chinese prison cells where the lights were reportedly kept on for 24 hours a day. Meng, meanwhile, was said to have been living in Vancouver in a luxurious, multi-million dollar mansion.
Outside of the courtroom in Vancouver Friday, she thanked the Canadian government and apologized “for the inconvenience I caused.”
“Over the last three years my life has been turned upside down,” Meng 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.”
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, reads a statement outside B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia on Sept. 24, 2021.AP
Video of Meng speaking at Vancouver International Airport showed her saying: “Thank you motherland, thank you to the people of the motherland. You have been my greatest pillar of support.”
She quickly departed on an Air China flight to Shenzen, China, where Huawei’s HQ is located.
About an hour after her flight, Trudeau announced that Spavor and Kovrig were on their way back home.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Spavor and Kovrig’s “strength and perseverance” throughout their detainment. The Canadian Press via AP
Comfort Ero, the interim Vice President of the International Crisis Group, KOVRIG’s EMPLOYER
Comfort Ero, interim Vice President of the International Crisi Group, Kovrig’s employer, thanked all three countries for their efforts.
“Michael Kovrig is free. To Beijing: We welcome this most just decision. To Ottawa: Thank you for your steadfast support for our colleague. To the United States: Thank you for your willingness to support an ally and our colleague. To the inimitable, indefatigable, and inspiring Michael Kovrig, welcome home!” Ero said in a statement.
With Post wires