China releases Canadians after Huawei boss reaches deal with US law enforcement

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. Credit: AP

Two Canadians have been released from prison in China and flown out of the country, just as the chief executive of Chinese giant Huawei reached a deal with the US Justice Department over fraud charges and was allowed to fly back to China.

The chain of events has brought an abrupt end to legal and geopolitical wrangling that for the past three years has roiled relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa

The first move came when Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief finance officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, reached an agreement with federal prosecutors which meant her fraud charges will be dropped next year and she could 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.

About an hour after Meng’s plane left Canada for China, it was revealed that Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were also on their way home.

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

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arriving at a parole office in Vancouver Credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

"These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

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.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reposted on social media a report on Meng having left Canada, adding “Welcome home.”

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.”

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, has been living in Canada Credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

As part of the deal with Meng, 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 US which she has vigorously challenged, ending a process that prosecutors said could have persisted for months.

After appearing via video call 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.

Concerns have been raised over the company's links to the Chinese state. Credit: PA

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a technological world power — and a subject of US security and law enforcement concerns.

Some analysts say Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms and stolen technology.

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 US government’s allegations and security concerns about its products.