Canada Tries Secret Trade – Huawei Exec for Accused Spies

Ottawa seeks to get US to do prisoner swap

The Canadian government is secretly trying to secure the release of its two citizens accused of spying, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in return for the release of Huawei chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, a well-informed Canadian source told Asia Sentinel.

Such a quid pro quo goes against the public vow of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not to trade hostages. Hence, the Canadian government is doing the deal indirectly by secretly asking the US government to do the trading of prisoners, the source revealed.

In what is widely seen as hostage diplomacy, the fates of Spavor and Kovrig depend on whether Meng gets extradited from Canada to the US, Asia Sentinel reported on August 19. The US authorities want to try Meng for allegedly misleading HSBC on Huawei’s dealings in Iran and thus might have caused the bank to violate US sanctions against Tehran.

Huawei, a Chinese telecommunication technology firm, has extensive business around the world. Meng was arrested in Canada on 1 December 2018, and days later, Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China on espionage charges.

“The Canadian government is pressing the US government to cut a deal with China that will result in the release of the two Michaels,” said the source, who has spoken to senior officials of the US, Canada, and China on this matter.

“The Canadian government is trying to free the two Michaels while eschewing political intervention, but wants the US to do that by way of a DPA (deferred prosecution agreement),” the source explained.

Under US law, a defendant who obtains a DPA pays a fine and sometimes admits to some wrongdoing, but avoids prosecution and jail. After a stipulated period, if the defendant behaves according to the terms of the DPA, he or she will be totally free of all charges.

The US Department of Justice is discussing a deal with Meng that would allow her to return to China from Canada, in exchange for admitting some wrongdoing, the Wall Street Journal reported on December 4, 2020, citing unnamed sources.

“Canada has, in effect, outsourced its diplomacy to the United States,” the source said.

Talking to reporters in Ottawa on June 25, 2020, Trudeau said, “We cannot allow political pressures or random arrests of Canadian citizens to influence the functioning of our justice system. If the Chinese government concludes from this exchange and this situation that it is an effective way to gain leverage over Canadians and the Canadian government – to randomly arrest Canadians – then no Canadian will be safe going forward.”

Although the Chinese government did not publicly say so, it is tacitly leaving the door open to a deal with Canada. On August 11, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison, a RMB50,000 (US$7,715) fine and deportation. By not specifying a timeline for deportation, Beijing has the option to deport Spavor earlier if Meng avoids extradition to the US, an Asia Sentinel story on August 19 quoted an unnamed British consultant saying.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the Supreme Court of British Columbia is expected to decide on Meng’s extradition by October. If she agrees to the extradition, the final decision lies with Canadian Justice David Lametti.

The US allegations against Meng Wanzhou are unclear, Holmes said during the extradition hearing on August 11.

The fact that the judge publicly expressed doubts on the case for Meng’s extradition opens the door for the Canadian Justice Minister to exercise his discretion not to send her to the US, said the source.

The Justice Minister would be doing so within the parameters of the US-Canada extradition treaty, and hence under the rule of law, the source explained. “In this respect, the judge’s skepticism about the US case against Madam Meng is a potential game changer.”

On August 11, a Chinese court upheld a death sentence against a Canadian man, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, for smuggling drugs.

In a statement on August 13, the Canadian Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China condemned the treatment of Spavor, Kovrig and Schellenberg at the hands of the Chinese government. 

“Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been held hostage since 2018 in an attempt to exert pressure on the Canadian government. During this time they are believed to have been subject to torture, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement,” said the alliance.

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