TORONTO – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugged two Canadians who landed in Canada on Saturday in what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner exchange involving China, the United States and Canada.
Trudeau greeted Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after their plane landed in Calgary, Alta., Early Saturday. The men were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng following an extradition request from the United States. Many countries have called China’s action a “hostage policy.”
Live footage on CTV’s news network showed the two men being hugged by Trudeau on the tarmac in the early hours of the morning.
The pair left China just after a senior executive at Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies struck a deal with the US Department of Justice over fraud charges and flew from Canada to China.
The chain of events involving the world powers has brought an abrupt end to the legal and geopolitical quarrels which, for the past three years, have shaken relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa. The three-way deal allowed China and Canada to each bring home their own detained citizens as the United States completed a criminal case against a prominent Chinese tech leader who, for months, was mired in a dispute. extradition battle.
The first activity took place on Friday afternoon when Meng Wanzhou, 49, chief financial officer of Huawei and daughter of the company founder, reached an agreement with federal prosecutors calling for the fraud charges against her to be rejected next year and allowing him to return to China. at once. As part of the deal, known as the deferred prosecution agreement, she accepted responsibility for distorting the company’s business relationship in Iran.
“These two men went through an incredibly difficult ordeal. Over the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that, ”Trudeau said at a hastily called press conference Friday night.
The news of Meng’s imminent return was a major topic on the Chinese internet and in the midday report on state broadcaster CCTV, with no mention of the release of Kovrig and Spavor.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reposted a report on Meng’s departure from Canada on social media, adding “Welcome home.”
A video was also posted online of Meng speaking at Vancouver International Airport, saying; “Thank you homeland, thank you to the people of the homeland. You have been my biggest pillar of support.
The deal came as President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping sought to ease signs of public tension – even as the world’s two dominant economies disagree on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, change climate, human rights and trade and tariffs. Biden said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week that he did not intend to start a “new cold war,” while Xi told world leaders that the disputes between the countries “must be treated through dialogue and cooperation”.
“The US government joins the international community in welcoming the decision of the authorities of the People’s Republic of China to release Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after more than two and a half years in arbitrary detention. We are happy that they are returning home to Canada, ”US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
As part of the deal with Meng, which was leaked in federal court in Brooklyn, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss fraud charges against her in December 2022 – exactly four years after her arrest – on condition that it comply with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations. The Justice Department also agreed to drop her request for Meng’s extradition to the United States, which she had vigorously contested, ending a process that prosecutors say could have persisted for months. .
After appearing by videoconference for her hearing in New York, Meng made a brief appearance in Vancouver court, where she was released on bail living in a multi-million dollar mansion while the two Canadians were held in cells. Chinese prison where the lights were on. 24 hours a day.
Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed his gratitude to the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience.”
“Over the past three years my life has been turned upside down,” she said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, wife and business leader. But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It was truly an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes I received.
Soon after, Meng left on an Air China flight to Shenzhen, China, where Huawei’s headquarters are located.
Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of network equipment for telephone and Internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a global technological powerhouse – and a subject of US security and law enforcement concerns. Some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and standards and stolen the technology.
The case against Meng stems from a January 2019 indictment by the Trump administration’s 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 US sanctions. The indictment also accused Meng herself of committing fraud by deceiving HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The indictment came amid a broader Trump administration crackdown on Huawei over concerns from the US government that the company’s products could facilitate Chinese espionage. The administration cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology, including Google music and other smartphone services, and subsequently banned vendors around the world from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.
The Biden White House, meanwhile, has maintained a hard line on Huawei and other Chinese companies whose technology is believed to pose national security risks.
Huawei has repeatedly denied the US government’s claims and security concerns regarding its products.
Meng had long fought against the Justice Ministry’s extradition request, with her lawyers calling the case against her flawed and alleging that she was being used as a “bargaining chip” in a political game. They cited a 2018 interview in which then-President Donald Trump said he would be prepared to intervene in the case if it helps secure a trade deal with China or helps security interests. the United States.
Last month, a Canadian judge did not decide whether Meng should be extradited to the United States after a lawyer for the Canadian Department of Justice concluded his case by saying there was enough evidence to show that he ‘she was dishonest and deserved to be tried in the United States.
Comfort Ero, acting vice president of the International Crisis Group, Kovrig’s employer, said they had been waiting for the news for more than 1,000 days.
“Michael Kovrig is free. In Beijing: We welcome this most just decision. In Ottawa: Thank you for your unwavering support to our colleague. In the United States: Thank you for your willingness to support an ally and our colleague. To the inimitable, tireless and inspiring Michael Kovrig, welcome home! Ero said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Jim Morris in Vancouver, Canada, contributed to this report.