Prisoner swap: Canada releases Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, China frees 2 Canadians
Huawei’s chief financial officer (CFO) Meng Wanzhou, who had been in detention in Canada since December 2018, left the country for China on Friday after a judge discharged her in a case for extradition to the United States following the American department of justice agreeing to a deal with her.
In a day of fast-changing developments, hours later there was a quid pro quo settlement as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that two Canadians, including a former diplomat, who were detained in China and charged with espionage following Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Canada, had been released and were on their way back to Canada.
The day started with Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, making a virtual appearance before a Federal district court in Brooklyn, New York. The US justice department in a statement said she had “entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) and was arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and wire fraud”.
Acting US assistant attorney general Mark Lesko for the justice department’s National Security Division said the DPA would be “end of the ongoing extradition proceedings in Canada, which otherwise could have continued for many months, if not years”. Under the plea deal, Meng Wanzhou agreed to a statement that constituted an admission of deceiving a financial institution in an effort to bypass sanctions imposed by the US on the regime in Iran. “In entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution,” said acting US attorney Nicole Boeckmann for the eastern district of New York.
By the afternoon, British Columbia Supreme Court associate chief justice Heather Holmes discharged the extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou, CFO of the Chinese telecommunications company.
“Sorry for the inconvenience caused,” Meng Wanzhou told reporters outside the Vancouver court after the case was dropped. While she said the long-running case had been “disruptive” for her personally, Meng Wanzhou expressed her appreciation of the court “for their professionalism and the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law.”
Canada’s department of justice thereafter stated she was “free to leave” the country.
Within hours, she was aboard a special Air China flight that left Canada for the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Late on Friday evening, Justin Trudeau announced that the two Canadians imprisoned in China, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were on board a flight from China and returning to Canada. Addressing the media in Ottawa, he said, “These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace.”
On August 11, businessman Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Chinese court on charges related to spying.
The case involving Meng Wanzhou and the two Michaels had led to a rapid schism in relations between Ottawa and China with Trudeau describing China’s actions in arresting the two Michaels as “hostage diplomacy”.
Interestingly, after becoming PM for a third term following national elections on Monday, Trudeau had a telephonic conversation with US President Joe Biden where the fate of the two Michaels was among the subjects discussed.
In what appeared to be an exchange of prisoners, the flight carrying the two Michaels left China at almost exactly the same time as the one with Meng Wanzhou aboard departed Vancouver.“It’s good news for all of us that they are on their way home to their families,” Trudeau said. He made the announcement after their flight had left Chinese airspace.
China has denied Canadian charges that they were “arbitrarily detained” as an act of “coercive diplomacy”, but the sequence of events on Friday evening will buttress Ottawa’s argument.