China charges two detained Canadians with alleged espionage

Reuters , Friday 19 Jun 2020

China - Canada tension
Demonstrator holding a photo of detained Canadians Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig in Vancouver, May 8, 2019. (AFP)

Chinese prosecutors said on Friday they have charged two detained Canadians for alleged espionage, 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.

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

In December, the foreign ministry said it had ended an investigation into the two Canadians, and the case had been turned over to prosecutors. Kovrig's case is being handled by prosecutors in Beijing, and Spavor's in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

The charges represent the next step in judicial proceedings against the pair and 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 on Friday.

Spavor was charged with spying on national secrets and illegally providing state secrets to entities outside of China, while Kovrig was charged with spying on national secrets and intelligence for entities outside of China, according to the two notices posted online by prosecutors on Friday.

Earlier this month, China's envoy to Canada, Cong Peiwu, said the two detained men were "in good health," but that consular visits had been suspended due to coronavirus restrictions.

The Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission said last year that Kovrig is accused of "stealing and spying on sensitive Chinese information and intelligence." It said Spavor provided Kovrig with intelligence, without giving details.

Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organization that focuses on conflict resolution. ICG could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

ICG has previously said the accusations against Kovrig are "vague and unsubstantiated."

Spavor, 44, is a businessman with deep ties to North Korea.

While China maintains the detentions are not linked to Huawei's Meng, former diplomats and experts have said they are being used to pressure Canada.

Last month, Huawei's 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.

She recently raised a new argument in a Canadian court in a bid to fight extradition, court documents released on Monday showed.

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