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Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou headed home to China on Saturday as Chinese authorities released Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, despite having claimed their sentences were unrelated to Meng’s detention in Vancouver at the request of the United States.
Meng was freed after attending court via video link from her home in Vancouver, where she has been under loose house arrest since being arrested on Dec. 1, 2018 at the city’s airport, pending an extradition request from U.S. federal investigators, who have charged her with misleading HSBC Holdings about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
Days later, Chinese authorities arrested eight Canadian nationals, including Kovrig and Spavor, and handed down a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug trafficker Robert Schellenberg, who had been serving a 15-year jail term.
The arrests and resentencing sparked criticism around the world that the moves were a form of “hostage diplomacy” on the part of Beijing, and raised concerns that Beijing might seize nationals of other countries with disputes with China.
Meng’s release came after she reached a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 24.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kessler told the court that the prosecution had adopted Meng Wanzhou’s acknowledgment of some wrongdoing under the agreement in exchange for delaying her prosecution.
A copy of a “Statement of Facts” posted to Twitter by Canada-based South China Morning Post correspondent Ian Young showed that Meng admitted that her previous claim that Huawei had only a “business partnership” with another company, Iran-based Skycom, was untrue, as the latter is wholly owned by the former, and “Skycom employees are really Huawei employees.”
The statement relates to a case against HSBC brought by the DOJ under U.S. sanctions banning companies with a U.S. presence from doing business with individuals or organizations in Iran.
The deferred prosecution agreement will end in December 2022, at which point the wire transfer and bank fraud charges against Meng will be withdrawn if she doesn’t break the law again.
Meng, who as the daughter of Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei has earned the soubriquet “Huawei’s princess,” thanked the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese government via social media as she took a plane home.
“It is that shade of brilliant Chinese red that…leads me on the long journey home,” she wrote in comments translated by Agence France-Presse.
Back home in China, state media made no reference to her admission of wrongdoing, with the Global Times newspaper reporting that she had been “finally released on a not guilty plea,” and made no mention of Kovrig and Spavor.
Soon after Meng boarded her flight to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Kovrig and Spavor had left Chinese airspace, and were expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday.
Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa that they had gone through “an unbelievably difficult ordeal.”
“For the past 1,000 days they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace, and we are all inspired by that,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The U.S. Government stands with the international community in welcoming the decision” to release the men.
Michael Spavor, who was detained amid allegations of stealing state secrets more than two years ago, was sentenced on Aug. 8 by the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning.
Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat detained amid allegations of stealing state secrets more than two years ago, stood trial behind closed doors at the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing on March 22, 2021, three days after Spavor’s trial.
China gave no legal explanation for the release of the Canadians, despite its long insistence that their case had no connection to Meng’s.
Huawei security concerns
The U.S. has warned that Huawei, a private company subject to Chinese government orders to aid national security operations, could use its gear for espionage, and the U.S. has lobbied some foreign governments, including some members of the 29-nation NATO alliance and European Union, to shun Huawei Technologies.
U.S. officials have threatened to not share intelligence with those who compromise their network security by buying the Chinese manufacturer’s products for their next-generation 5G wireless infrastructure or defense communications systems.
In July 2020, the U.K. said it was banning Huawei from its 5G telecom network amid an investigation by U.S. prosecutors into its alleged theft of trade secrets and obstruction of justice.
British telecom operators were given until 2027 to remove existing Huawei equipment from their 5G networks in changes likely to delay the country’s 5G rollout by a year.
Around the same time, researchers in Australia were sounding the alarm about the CCP’s global network of influence operating via the United Front, a network of party and government-linked agencies and companies.
Concerns were reignited in the U.K. earlier this month after the Times newspaper reported that a top business school at the University of Cambridge has close ties with Huawei, with three out of five board members linked with the company.
Three out of four directors at the Cambridge Centre for Chinese Management (CCCM) were reported to have ties with Huawei, while its chief representative is a former Huawei senior vice president paid by the Chinese government, the Times reported on Sept. 13, 2021.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.