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China wraps up Canadian’s espionage trial in two hours

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The trial of a Canadian businessman detained in China since late 2018 ended in a two-hour closed door hearing in a northeastern city on Friday, the latest development in a case seen by Ottawa as a tit-for-tat retaliation for the arrest of a top Huawei executive on a US extradition warrant.

The verdict in the case of Michael Spavor, 45, charged with espionage, will be announced on a later date, the Dandong intermediate people’s court said in a statement.

China arrested Spavor and fellow Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, on a US request.

Canada has repeatedly called the arrests of its two citizens “arbitrary”.

According to news reports from Dandong, Jim Nickel, charge d’affaires of the Canadian embassy in China, told reporters that Spavor was present for the hearing.

Diplomats were not allowed into the hearing.

Kovrig will go on trial in Beijing on Monday.

Last June, the Dandong court in the northeastern Liaoning province initiated Spavor’s public prosecution for suspected spying.

The Canadian duo had little contact with the outside world and limited access to lawyers since their arrest.

Virtual consular visits could only be resumed last October after a nine-month gap because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese authorities had then said.

China has denied that the cases of the two Canadians are linked to Meng’s arrest.

“China has repeatedly stated its position on the cases involving the Canadian citizens. Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently in accordance with the law and fully guarantee the lawful rights of the individuals concerned,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian said when asked to comment on the case.

“China always handles relevant matters including consular notification in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Consular Agreement between China and Canada as well as Chinese laws and regulations,” he said.

Earlier this week, China’s Xinhua news agency cited unidentified Chinese authorities as saying Kovrig violated Chinese laws by acting as a spy and stealing state secrets with the help of Spavor, linking the two cases.

“Kovrig was accused of using an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig,” a state media report said.

Canada’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, on Wednesday said, “The arbitrary detention of Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor is a top priority for the government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release.”

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” Garneau said in a statement.

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