A Canadian businessman who introduced North Korea leader Kim Jong UN to former NBA star Dennis Rodman was sentenced by a Chinese court Wednesday to 11 years behind bars for espionage — prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call for his immediate release.
Entrepreneur Michael Spavor was detained along with former diplomat Michael Kovrig in 2018 on what Ottawa said were politically orchestrated charges after tech giant Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on a US extradition warrant.
China is stepping up pressure as a Canadian judge hears final arguments about whether to send Wanzhou to the US to face charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.
Spavor was sentenced by a court in Dandong, about 210 miles east of Beijing on the North Korean border.
His family, which has maintained his innocence, said he had done much as a businessman to “build constructive ties” between Canada, China and North Korea.
Spavor organized cultural visits to Pyongyang, where he met the North Korean leader and helped foster the unlikely friendship between the despot and Rodman.
Beijing has released few details other than to accuse Spavor of passing along sensitive information to Kovrig beginning in 2017. Both have been held in isolation and have little contact with Canadian officials.
The Canadian government condemned Spavor’s sentence saying he and Kovrig are “detained arbitrarily” and called for their immediate release.
Trudeau said the trial “did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.”
“The verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” he said in a statement.
Spavor has two weeks to decide whether to appeal, according to Ambassador Dominic Barton, who said the legal process “lacked both fairness and transparency.”
“While we disagree with the charges, we realize that this is the next step in the process to bring Michael home, and we will continue to support him through this challenging time,” Spavor’s family said in a statement.
“Michael’s life passion has been to bring different cultures together through tourism and events shared between the Korean peninsula and other countries including China and Canada,” the family added. “This situation has not dampened, but strengthened his passion.”
Diplomats from several countries, including the US, Britain, Australia, Germany and Japan gathered at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing in a show of support. They have issued separate appeals for Spavor and Kovrig to receive fair trials or to be released.
“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “People should never be used as bargaining chips.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said his country was “moved by the demonstration by solidarity from our international partners.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Ltd. and daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested on US charges of lying to the Hong Kong arm of the British bank HSBC about possible dealings with Iran in violation of trade sanctions.
Her attorneys argue that the case is politically motivated and said that what she is accused of isn’t a crime in Canada.
Beijing has slammed the arrest as part of American efforts to hamper Chinese technology development.
Huawei, which makes network equipment and smartphones, is at the center of US-Chinese tension over technology and the security of information systems.
Beijing has denied any connection between Meng’s case and the arrests of Spavor and Kovrig, but Chinese officials and state media frequently mention the two in connection with whether she is allowed to return to China.
Asked whether Canada was negotiating over possibly sending Meng home in exchange for the release of the Canadians, Barton said that “there are intensive efforts and discussions. I don’t want to talk in any detail about that. But that will continue.”
Meanwhile Tuesday, a court in China rejected the appeal of another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, of his sentence in a drug case that was abruptly increased to death after Spavor’s arrest.
With Post wires