Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has announced that Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. who had been in custody in China, were flying back home. Beijing alleged the men were spies hunting for China’s state secrets.
“About 12 minutes ago, the aircraft carrying Michael Kovrig and Micheal Spavor left Chinese airspace and they are on the way home,” Trudeau announced in a televised statement late on Friday.
The announcement came hours after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was released from Canadian custody after striking a deal with the US prosecution.
The China-bound plane carrying Meng as well as the one carrying the two Canadians apparently departed from their respective airports around the same time.
Trudeau revealed that Kovrig and Spavor boarded the plane about 7:30pm Ottawa time (23:30 GMT), while Meng’s Air China aircraft reportedly took off from a Vancouver International Airport at around 4:35pm local time (23:35 GMT).
Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018, shortly after Meng was arrested in Vancouver at the US’ request. She faced an array of charges, including allegedly conspiring to violate US trade sanctions on Iran. As part of the deal with prosecutors, Meng pleaded not guilty. The 4-year arrangement, known as a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), was started retroactively from the day of her initial arrest in Canada on December 1, 2018.
One of the former Canadian detainees, Spavor, was convicted of espionage in China and sentenced to 11 years in prison in August. Earlier this month, China’s state-run newspaper the Global Times claimed that Spavor took photos and videos of Chinese military equipment to distribute to third parties. The other Canadian citizen, former diplomat Kovrig, was accused of collecting information related to China’s national security as well. His trial was held behind closed doors in March, and the verdict had yet to be announced. Beijing also alleged that Spavor provided information to Kovrig over an extended period of time.
Prior to Spavor and Kovrig’s release on Friday, Canadian authorities repeatedly denounced their detention as “arbitrary” and claimed it was retaliation for Meng’s arrest. Beijing has denied those claims, insisting that all proper judicial procedures were followed in both cases.