Michael Spavor: Canadian spy trial in China ends without verdict

Clay Curtis
March 19, 2021

After Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor were charged with espionage a year ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the "political" nature of their case, saying their detention was a "decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it".

Canada's consulate has been notified that the trial for Michael Spavor would begin on Friday and the trial for Michael Kovrig would begin on Monday.

"We are disappointed in the lack of access and the lack of transparency", Jim Nickel, charge d'affaires at the Canadian embassy in China, told reporters ahead of the hearing.

Following Spavor's hearing, the Dandong Intermediate People's Court said it would set a date for a verdict at a later time, which Botha said was something she had been hoping for.

Meng's arrest enraged Beijing, which has also retaliated by restricting various Canadian exports, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to another four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.

Both the administrations of former US President Donald Trump, and now US President Joe Biden have pledged to do all they can to assist the two Canadians, with Vice President Kamala Harris telling Mr Trudeau in a phone call in February that Washington was in "strong solidarity with Canada regarding the issue of two Canadian citizens unjustly detained by China". Police cars and vans with lights flashing passed through the gate to the court complex, located beside the Yalu River that divides China from North Korea. Both Canadians have been held in prison since their arrest in December 2018.

Meng, whose father is Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, has been fighting extradition to the United States on charges that she and the company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and other laws.

She was released on $7.4 million bail on December 11, allowing her to stay at a luxury home owned by her husband in Vancouver under electronic surveillance pending her U.S. extradition hearing. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan are now holding their first face-to-face talks with China's top diplomats in Anchorage.

People walk in front of the Dandong Intermediate People's Court where Canadian businessman Michael Spavor willgo on trial     AFP
People walk in front of the Dandong Intermediate People's Court where Canadian businessman Michael Spavor willgo on trial AFP

In a statement posted on its website, the Intermediate People's Court of Dandong in the northeastern province of Liaoning Province said it had held a closed-door hearing against Spavor on charges of spying and illegally sending state secrets overseas.

On June 19, 2020, China formally charged Kovrig and Spavor, more than 18 months after their arrests.

Prosecutors have not released more details of the charges and trial proceedings in national security cases are generally held behind closed doors.

Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group (ICG), is accused by the Chinese authorities of "stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017", while Spavor, a businessman based in Beijing with a focus on North Korea, is accused of providing intelligence to Kovrig.

Meng's case has infuriated China's government, which has promoted Huawei as a global leader in mobile communications technology.

Her court case in Vancouver has entered its final phase with hearings expected to end in mid-May, barring appeals. British Columbia Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes suggested that border officers would have questioned Meng more rigorously if they were actually conducting a covert criminal investigation, as her lawyers said.

China has asked for Wanzhou's immediate and unconditional release. Canadian authorities say Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa, and have demanded that they be released without charge.

Since the, Canada has been caught in the middle of a trilateral diplomatic tug of war.

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