China charges 2 Canadians with espionage

Their arrests in 2018 had followed the detention of Huawei executive by Canada


Chinese prosecutors said on Friday they have charged two detained Canadians for suspected espionage, indictments that could result in life imprisonment, in a case that has driven a diplomatic wedge between Ottawa and Beijing.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in late 2018 on state security charges, soon after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Technologies Co’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant. While China maintains the detentions are not linked to Ms. Meng, former diplomats and experts have said they are being used to pressure Canada.

For their freedom: People seeking the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in Vancouver last year.
For their freedom: People seeking the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in Vancouver last year. | Photo Credit: LINDSEY WASSON

China has repeatedly called for Ms. Meng’s release, and has warned Canada that it could face consequences for aiding the United States in her case.

‘Stealing state secrets’

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing on Friday that the indictments were “of particularly serious circumstances which violated Article 111 of the Criminal Law of the Peoples Republic of China,” which pertains to espionage and state secrets. Under that article, a conviction can carry a sentence of from 10 years to life imprisonment “when circumstances are particularly serious”. The charges mean a formal trial can begin.

Canada has called the arrests “arbitrary”. The Canadian Embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission said last year that Mr. Kovrig is accused of “stealing and spying on sensitive Chinese information and intelligence.” It said Mr. Spavor provided Mr. Kovrig with intelligence.

Mr. Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on conflict resolution. Mr. Spavor, 44, is a businessman with deep ties to North Korea.

Last month, Huawei’s Ms. Meng, the daughter of the founder of the telecoms giant, lost a legal bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face bank fraud charges, dashing hopes for an end to her house arrest in Vancouver.