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Ruling expected in case of one of two Canadian Michaels detained in China

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AND LASIA KRETZEL | posted Tuesday, Aug 10th, 2021

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – One of two Canadian Michaels charged with spying in China and detained for more than two years is finally set to learn his fate within the next day, in a case that’s been widely seen as retribution for the arrest of a Chinese tech executive.

Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, were arrested in December 2018, days after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada at Vancouver International Airport. The U.S. wants her extradited on charges of lying to the Hong Kong arm of the British bank HSBC about possible dealings with Iran in violation of trade sanctions.

Spavor’s two-hour trial was held in March, but no verdict was given.

Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton said he would go to see Spavor in Dandong, about 210 miles (340 kilometers) east of Beijing on the North Korean border.

Asked when a ruling might come, Barton said, “our sense is, it’s tomorrow.” As for the second detained Canadian, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, the ambassador said, “we have not received any indication of that.”

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Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy St. Jacques, expects the verdict will immediately come with a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for Spavor, with a similar verdict for Kovrig some time in the near future.

“For the Canadian government, unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done on our own, but except maybe to continue to put pressure on Washington to try to come up with a plea bargain for Mrs. Meng. This would allow for the withdrawal of the extradition request, and therefore she could return to China,” St. Jacques said.

However, he points to negotiations last December between China and the U.S. and Barton’s visit to Washington in April, which did not produce any results.

The entire case has been directed by the Chinese government, according to St. Jacques

“The evidence (in Spavor’s trial) was not shared with the defense. So it was a sham trial and Xi Jinping, the president of China, was clear. He said the last fall that the Chinese Communist Party is above the law, and for high profile cases like this, it’s clear that it’s the party that is calling the shots.”

Meng’s case to wrap up in next few weeks

A judge in Vancouver is due to hear final arguments in the next few weeks about whether Meng should be extradited to the United States. Her lawyers argue the case is politically motivated and what she is accused of isn’t a crime in Canada.

“Of course, in the case of Mrs. Meng, this could go on for a while because she can avail herself of the appeal process and they she can appeal at various stages and the net result is that we have to expect that she will stay in Canada for a few more years, which means that it’s unlikely that we have progress on the case of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for quite some time,” St. Jacques said.

China’s government has criticized the arrest as part of U.S. efforts to hamper its technology development. Huawei, a maker of network equipment and smartphones, is China’s first global tech brand and is at the center of U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and security.

On Tuesday, the Higher People’s Court of Liaoning province in the northeast rejected an appeal by Canadian Robert Schellenberg, whose 15-year prison term on drug smuggling charges was increased to death in January 2019 following Meng’s arrest.

The case was sent to China’s supreme court for review, a required step before a death sentence can be carried out.

The Canadian government criticized the ruling as arbitrary and the penalty as “cruel and inhumane.”

“We condemn the verdict in the strongest possible terms and call on China to grant Robert clemency,” Ambassador Barton told reporters by phone after attending the appeals hearing in Shenyang, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) west of Dandong.

Schellenberg was convicted of smuggling 222 kilograms (448 pounds) of methamphetamine, according to the court.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, smiles as she leaves home to attend her extradition hearing at B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

Asked whether the three cases were linked to Meng’s, Barton said, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence these are happening right now while events are going on in Vancouver.” He said the case was “part of the geopolitical process.”

He said Canadian diplomats talked with Schellenberg after the ruling but declined to give details.

“He is remarkably composed,” Barton said. “We had a good conversation.”

Diplomats from the United States, Germany, Australia and France attended Tuesday’s hearing, according to Barton. He expressed thanks to them and other governments for expressing support for Canada.

Two other Canadians, Fan Wei and Xu Weihong, also were sentenced to death on drug charges in separate cases in 2019 as relations between Beijing and Ottawa soured.

The Huawei case is one of a series of conflicts between Beijing and other governments over China’s technology ambitions, the coronavirus, human rights, Hong Kong and claims to control over the South China and East China Seas.

China has tried to pressure Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government by imposing restrictions on imports of canola seed oil and other products from Canada.

Meanwhile, Beijing is blocking imports of Australian wheat, wine and other products after its government called for an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

With files from Monika Gul

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