China said Tuesday that its investigative process has wrapped up for two Canadians detained in the communist country over vague espionage-related charges, hinting at the possibility of trials, exactly one year since they were first arrested.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been languishing in China’s opaque legal system since they were detained on Dec. 10, 2018, in a case widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of a top executive of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co.
The pair’s detention began just nine days after the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.
“The investigative process on the two cases has been completed and they have been transferred … for investigation and prosecution,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, according to a transcript of a Tuesday news conference.
These kinds of trials are generally carried out behind closed doors and convictions are virtually assured.
Hua reiterated China’s claims that Kovrig’s case involves “covertly gathering state secrets and intelligence for foreign forces” and that Spavor’s deals with “stealing and illegally providing state secrets to foreign forces.”
She said that China’s judicial authorities have handled the two cases “in strict accordance” with the law and would continue to “protect the two Canadian citizens’ lawful rights.”
However, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement Tuesday that Kovrig and Spavor have not had access to lawyers and have been denied contact with their families since they were “arbitrarily detained.”
Asked why they have not been given access to lawyers if China follows the rule of law, Hua ducked the question, saying only that Beijing has “repeatedly provided information on the two Canadian citizens upon request.”
“I understand the authorities have arranged multiple consular visits by the Canadian Embassy in China,” she said, adding that the two “are in sound condition.”
Champagne said that the two Canadian nationals “will remain our absolute priority.”
“We will continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release and to stand up for them as a government and as Canadians,” he said. “We are grateful to the many countries around the world that have expressed support for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.”
Meng, the Huawei executive, is living under house arrest in one of her two luxury mansions in the western Canadian city of Vancouver, where she recently penned a letter contrasting her hectic life as a high-flying executive with her current placid existence as her legal team fights a U.S. deportation request.
Kovrig previously worked for more than a decade as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and at the United Nations in New York, according to his current employer, International Crisis Group. He also served as a China analyst at the Rhodium Group research firm.
Spavor is a consultant who has worked extensively in North Korea, including as director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that promotes investment and tourism in the isolated country. He is best known for his strong personal ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.