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Two Canadians return home after Huawei CFO resolves U.S. charges

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugged two Canadians who landed in Canada on Saturday following what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner swap involving China, the U.S. and Canada. Trudeau greeted Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after their plane landed in Calgary, Alberta early Saturday. 

The men were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng on a U.S. extradition request. Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics.”

The two left China just after a top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies reached a deal with the U.S. Justice Department over fraud charges and flew from Canada to China.

China Canada US Huawei
In this file image made from a March 2, 2017, video, Michael Spavor talks during a Skype interview in Yanji, China.

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The chain of events involving the global powers brought an abrupt end to legal and geopolitical wrangling that for the past three years has roiled relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa. The three-way deal enabled China and Canada to each bring home their own detained citizens while the U.S. wrapped up a criminal case against a prominent Chinese tech executive that for months had been mired in an extradition fight.

The first activity came Friday afternoon when Meng Wanzhou, 49, Huawei’s chief finance officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, reached an agreement with federal prosecutors that called for fraud charges against her to be dismissed next year and allowed for her to return to China immediately. As part of the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, she accepted responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business dealings in Iran.

News of Meng’s pending return was a top item on the Chinese internet and on state broadcaster CCTV’s midday news report, with no mention made of the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

China Canada Huawei
Police stand guard as supporters of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou gather at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport in Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong Province, September 25, 2021. 

Ng Han Guan/AP


Video was also circulated online of Meng speaking at Vancouver International Airport, saying; “Thank you motherland, thank you to the people of the motherland. You have been my greatest pillar of support.”

Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, Kovrig’s former boss when Kovrig worked as a diplomat, said he was elated the two Canadians are home.

“Clearly, the Chinese were so eager to get Meng back that they jettisoned all pretensions that the two Michaels had been arrested for good reasons. They must acknowledge that their reputation has been severely tarnished,” Saint-Jacques said. “There is grumbling in the Communist party of China, people saying, ‘In which direction are we going, Xi Jinping? We are creating too many enemies. Why are we enemies with countries like Canada and Australia?'”

Saint-Jacques said he thinks China will think twice before using “hostage diplomacy” again.

 The case against Meng stems from a January 2019 indictment from the Trump administration Justice Department that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The indictment also charged Meng herself with committing fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

As part of the deal with Meng, which was disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss the fraud charges against her in December 2022 – exactly four years after her arrest – provided that she complies with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations. The Justice Department also agreed to drop its request that Meng be extradited to the U.S., which she had vigorously challenged, ending a process that prosecutors said could have persisted for months.

After appearing via videoconference for her New York hearing, Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver, where she’d been out on bail living in a multimillion-dollar mansion while the two Canadians were held in Chinese prison cells where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day.

Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed gratitude to the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience I caused.”

“Over the last three years my life has been turned upside down,” she said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and as a company executive. But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes I received.”

Shortly afterward, Meng left on an Air China flight for Shenzhen, China, the location of Huawei’s headquarters. 

The Biden White House has kept up a hard line on Huawei and other Chinese corporations whose technology is thought to pose national security risks.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and security concerns about its products.

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