A Chinese court sentenced Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison Wednesday in a spying case that has been linked to Beijing’s pressure campaign against the Canadian government over the arrest of an executive at tech giant Huawei. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “absolutely unacceptable and unjust”. With relations between China and Canada already at the worst in decades over what some commentators have called tit-for-tat arrests of nationals and hostage diplomacy, the jailing of Spavor seems to sink the relationship to an even lower point.
Spavor was found guilty of “spying and illegal provision of state secrets abroad” by the Liaoning court on Wednesday, and will also be fined 50,000 yuan (US$7,700) and deported. He has 10 days to appeal. Spavor and another Canadian were detained in China after the executive, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested at the Vancouver airport in late 2018 at the request of U.S. authorities. A Canadian court will hear final arguments in the next few weeks over whether to hand Meng over to face U.S. criminal charges in connection with possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.
China has released few details of the charges and said Spavor was supplying intelligence and sensitive information to former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig beginning in 2017. Kovrig also was detained in December 2018 and tried on spying charges, though no word has been given about a verdict. The two have been held in isolation for more than two years with only periodic contact with Canadian Embassy staff. On Tuesday, a Chinese court rejected the appeal of a third Canadian whose 15-year prison sentence in a drug case was abruptly increased to the death penalty following Meng’s arrest. The case of Robert Schellenberg has been automatically appealed to China’s Supreme Court.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Ltd. and daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested Dec. 1, 2018, in Vancouver on U.S. charges of lying to the Hong Kong arm of the British bank HSBC about possible dealings with Iran in violation of trade sanctions. Meng’s lawyers argue the case is politically motivated