Canadians and Chinese Executives Return Home to Prisoner Swap

TORONTO (AP) – China, the United States and Canada have completed a high-risk prisoner exchange with joyous returns home for two detained Canadians …

TORONTO (AP) – China, the United States and Canada have completed a high-risk prisoner swap with happy returns for two Canadians held by China and an executive from Chinese global communications giant Huawei Technologies accused of fraud, which could lead to closure. to a period of three years. dispute involving the three countries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugged diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor on the tarmac after landing in Calgary, Alberta, early Saturday morning. The men were detained in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies and the daughter of the company’s founder, in an extradition request from the United States.

Many countries called China’s action a “hostage policy”, while China accused Ottawa of arbitrary detention. The two Canadians were jailed for more than 1,000 days.

“It is fantastic to come home to Canada and I am immensely grateful to everyone who worked hard to bring the two of us back home,” said Kovrig, noticeably slimmer, after a Canadian government plane landed in Toronto and was greeted. for his wife and sister. .

“I feel fantastic,” Kovrig said.

Meng’s return to China later on Saturday was broadcast live on state television, underscoring the degree to which Beijing has linked his case to Chinese nationalism and its rise as a world economic and political power.

Wearing a red dress that matches the color of China’s flag, Meng thanked the ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping for supporting her for more than 1,000 days under house arrest in Vancouver, where she owns two multi-million dollar mansions.

“I have finally returned to the warm embrace of the motherland,” Meng said. “As an ordinary Chinese citizen going through this difficult time, I have always felt the warmth and concern of the party, the nation and the people.”

The chain of events involving global powers brought an abrupt end to the legal and geopolitical disputes that have shaken relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa. The three-way deal allowed China and Canada each to bring their own detained nationals home while the United States concluded a criminal case against Meng that for months had been mired in an extradition struggle.

“These two men have been through an incredibly difficult experience. Over the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and that inspires us all, ”Trudeau said of the two Canadians.

The first activity came Friday afternoon when Meng, 49, reached a settlement with federal prosecutors calling for the fraud charges against him to be dismissed next year and allowing him to return to China immediately. As part of the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, he accepted responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business in Iran.

The deal was reached as President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping tried to quell signs of public tension, even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights. and trade and tariffs. Biden said in a speech to the UN General Assembly earlier this week that he had no intention of starting a “new Cold War,” while Xi told world leaders that disputes between countries “must be handled through dialogue. and cooperation “.

“The United States government supports the international community by 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 of arbitrary detention. We are pleased that they are returning home to Canada, ”US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

As part of the settlement with Meng, the Department of Justice agreed to dismiss the fraud charges against him in December 2022, exactly four years after his arrest, provided that he meets certain conditions, including not contesting any of the factual allegations of the government. The Justice Department also agreed to withdraw her request that Meng be extradited to the United States, which she had vigorously challenged.

After appearing by video conference for his hearing in New York, Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver, where he had been out on bail living in a multi-million dollar mansion while the two Canadians were being held in Chinese prison cells where the lights they 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 I caused.”

“Over the past three years, my life has radically changed,” he said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, wife and company executive. But I think 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 ”.

Soon after, Meng took off on an Air China flight to Shenzhen, China, the location of Huawei’s headquarters.

Huawei is the world’s largest provider of network equipment for telephone and Internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress to become a global technology powerhouse and a subject of US security and law enforcement concerns. Some analysts say that Chinese companies have disobeyed international rules and regulations and stolen 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 sanctions. from the United States. The prosecution also accused Meng herself of committing fraud by misleading HSBC bank about the company’s business in Iran.

The indictment came amid a broader Trump administration crackdown on Huawei over US government concerns that the company’s products could facilitate Chinese espionage. The administration cut off Huawei’s access to US components and technology, including Google Music and other smartphone services, and then banned vendors around the world from using US technology to produce components for Huawei.

Meanwhile, the Biden White House has maintained a hard line with Huawei and other Chinese corporations whose technology is believed to pose national security risks. Huawei has repeatedly denied the US government’s allegations and safety concerns about its products.

Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, Kovrig’s former boss, said he was elated that the two Canadians were home.

Clearly, the Chinese were so eager to get Meng back that they dropped all claims that the two Michaels had been arrested for good reason. They must acknowledge that their reputation has been seriously damaged, ”Saint-Jacques said. “There are complaints in the Communist Party of China, people say, ‘In which direction are we going, Xi Jinping? We are creating too many enemies. Why are we enemies of countries like Canada and Australia? ‘”

Saint-Jacques said he believes China will think twice about reverting to “hostage diplomacy.”

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Eric Tucker in Washington, Jim Mustian in New York, and Jim Morris in Vancouver, Canada, contributed to this report.

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