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Status of two Canadians in Chinese detention remains sketchy

Status of two Canadians in Chinese detention remains sketchy
Michael Kovrig, senior advisor to the International Crisis Group, remains in Chinese detention with Michael Spavor, a Canadian businessman. The two men were "put on trial," China's foreign ministry recently said. Photo courtesy the International Crisis Group

Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Chinese and Canadian authorities are offering conflicting claims regarding the status of two Canadians who remain in Chinese detention and face charges of espionage.

Beijing's foreign ministry said Thursday during a regular press briefing that the two men, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were put on trial after being charged with espionage in June.

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"In accordance with law, the Chinese authorities arrested and prosecuted them and put them on trial because the two Canadians are suspected of crimes endangering China's national security," Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Hua said previously that the two Michaels were "put on trial" Dec. 1, according to the BBC on Thursday. Chinese courts later contradicted that statement, claiming no trial had taken place, according to a diplomatic source who spoke to Canada's Globe and Mail.

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On Thursday Canada's department of foreign affairs challenged earlier reports, according to Canada's National Post.

"Contrary to what has been reported in the media this morning, there has been no development in the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor," Global Affairs Canada said.

"The confusion was caused by an inaccurate characterization of the process made by the Chinese [foreign ministry] spokesperson."

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Hua provided no other details on the status of Spavor or Kovrig on Thursday. Two days earlier, the Canadian Ambassador to Beijing, Dominic Barton, said the two men were in good physical and mental health, despite "hardship," according to the BBC.

Spavor and Kovrig were arrested in December 2018 after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, at Vancouver International Airport.

In June, Spavor was charged with "suspected spying secrets and illegally providing them to overseas forces." Kovrig was accused of spying and stealing state secrets and intelligence.

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Spavor is the chief executive of Paektu Cultural Exchange, a group that organizes business, culture and tourism trips to North Korea, and coordinated NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman's visit to Pyongyang in 2013.

China has consistently denied any connection between the two cases, and referred to Meng's arrest as a "serious political incident" Thursday.

"The Canadian government acted as an accomplice that bears unshirkable responsibilities in this process," Hua said.

Meng remains under house arrest as trials continue in Canada. In October a Canadian court said evidence from Meng "challenges the reliability" of a U.S. request for extradition. The Trump administration has charged Meng with violating Iran sanctions.

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