Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor formally charged by China for alleged espionage

Chinese prosecutors have formally laid charges against Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians who have been detained for well over a year, on allegations of espionage.

Statements posted by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Friday say Kovrig is charged with spying on state secrets and intelligence for other countries abroad. Spavor is charged with spying on national secrets and providing those secrets outside China.

Both statements said the charges were reached after “legal review.”

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The charges lay the path for Kovrig and Spavor to face a formal trial. Kovrig’s case will be handled by prosecutors in Beijing, while Spavor’s will be dealt with in Dandong, a city in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

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The escalation in Kovrig’s and Spavor’s legal saga, which has now lasted for over 550 days, comes less than a month after British Columbia’s Supreme Court dismissed an application from Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to avoid extradition to the United States over bank fraud charges.

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The two men were detained in China days after Meng was arrested by RCMP at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018. Canada has called the pair’s arrests and detention “arbitrary” and has asked repeatedly for their release.

Beijing has threatened retaliation and a worsening of relations with Canada if Meng isn’t released from house arrest in Vancouver, yet has also maintained the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are unrelated to Meng’s case.

Kovrig, a diplomat on leave who was working with the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were formally arrested in May, though charges were still not brought at that time. China repeatedly said they were “suspected” of endangering the country’s national security.

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READ MORE: Beijing denounces decision in Meng Wanzhou ruling, widening China-Canada divide

The two are being kept in detention facilities with 24-hour lighting and denied consular visits. Earlier this month, China’s envoy to Canada, Cong Peiwu, said the two detained men were “in good health,” but that consular visits had been suspended due to coronavirus restrictions.

In December, the foreign ministry said it had ended an investigation into the two Canadians, and the case had been turned over to prosecutors.

The U.S. has accused Meng of lying to a bank in order to violate American sanctions against Iran, which she and Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant, have denied.

—With files from Andrew Russell and Reuters

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