Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, detained in Canada since December 2018 pending extradition to the United States, has reached a deal that could be a step towards the release of two Canadians imprisoned in China.
Ms Meng pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in the United States in court proceedings in New York on Friday.
U.S. prosecutors said the plea is part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is to allow Ms. Meng to be promptly returned to China.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kessler said once everything is approved, the Attorney General of Canada will be notified on Friday that the United States is withdrawing its extradition request.
British Columbia court officials have confirmed a related appearance that takes place there later Friday, after the New York hearing.
The US Department of Justice had requested Ms Meng’s extradition on fraud charges over allegations that the Chinese tech company plotted to avoid US sanctions against Iran.
Meng, Kovrig et Spavor
Friday’s deal could prove to be a crucial step in Canada’s efforts to secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadian citizens who were detained in China shortly after Ms Meng’s arrest.
These detentions were widely viewed as retaliation for Ms. Meng’s arrest by Canada following a US extradition request.
Ms. Meng, daughter of the company’s founder, had been placed under house arrest in Vancouver pending possible extradition to the United States.
While China has publicly argued that there is no connection between the Meng case and MM’s imprisonment. Kovrig and Spavor, she hinted that if she was allowed to be released, it could be favorable to both Canadian men.
Cong Peiwu, Chinese Ambassador to Canada, reiterated this view in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this month. “I would like to suggest, as I always stress, that if the Canadian side can take resolute action to correct its mistake and release Ms. Meng at an early date, it will surely help the relations between our two countries to return to normal,” Mr Cong had said.
Mr. Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat with the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental peacebuilding organization. Mr. Spavor is an entrepreneur who has tried to forge human and commercial ties with North Korea. They were arrested on December 10, 2018, following Ms. Meng’s arrest by the RCMP nine days earlier, at the request of the United States, while she was passing through the Vancouver airport.
Earlier this year, MM. Kovrig and Spavor have both been convicted of espionage in closed Chinese courts – a process that Canada and dozens of allies say amounts to arbitrary detention on false charges in a closed court system without accountability .
China challenges the criticism, accuses Canada of being a pocket dog of the United States and has repeatedly called for Ms. Meng’s immediate release. China claims that the United States is simply trying to prevent Huawei from asserting its dominance in the international telecommunications market.
Mr Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison, which has fueled speculation that he may simply be deported by China. Mr. Kovrig has yet to be convicted.
Earlier this month, as MM. Kovrig and Spavor marked their 1000th day in Chinese prisons, support marches were held in Ottawa, New York, Washington, Brussels, Singapore and across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The marches were meant to replicate the 7,000 steps Mr. Kovrig attempts to walk in his cramped prison cell each day, a ritual designed to maintain his physical and mental well-being.
MM. Spavor and Kovrig are not allowed to see their family or lawyers (except in the case of their separate trials earlier this summer) and have been limited to visits by Canadian diplomats about once a month.
Ms. Meng has been released on bail, wears an ankle bracelet, and lives under court-ordered conditions in her locked home in an upscale neighborhood in Vancouver.
BC Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes reserved her decision on Ms Meng’s extradition in August, saying only she would set a date soon.
It was the culmination of a nearly three-year legal battle waged by Ms. Meng’s attorneys to prevent her from being extradited to the United States to face the charges.
However, even if the judge allowed the extradition, the final decision on Ms. Meng’s extradition would rest with the Minister of Justice of Canada.