Christopher Bodeen and Rob Gillies, The Associated Press
Published Monday, March 4, 2019 7:32AM EST
Last Updated Monday, March 4, 2019 1:52PM EST
TORONTO — China accused two detained Canadians on Monday of acting together to steal state secrets, just days after Canada announced it will proceed with a U.S. extradition request for a senior Chinese tech executive.
China arrested the two Canadians on Dec. 10 in what was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies, who was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng’s arrest set off a diplomatic furor and has severely strained Canadian relations with China.
The U.S. is seeking the extradiction of Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, to face charges she misled banks about the company’s business with Iran.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency cited unidentified Chinese authorities as saying former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig violated Chinese laws by acting as a spy and stealing state secrets and intelligence with the help of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor. It was the first time the two men’s cases have been linked.
It said Kovrig often entered China using an ordinary passport and business visas, and acquired information from Spavor, his “main contact.”
“Authorities stressed that China is a country ruled by law and will firmly crack down on criminal acts that severely undermine national security,” Xinhua said.
The same information was posted on the official news blog of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
No other details were given and Xinhua said further judicial proceedings would “take place based on the case’s progress.”
“We are obviously very concerned by this position that China has taken,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “It is unfortunate that China continues to move forward on these arbitrary detentions.”
Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think-tank . Spavor is an entrepreneur known for contacts with high-ranking North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un.
“We are aware of the Xinhua report of 4 March but have heard nothing official about any charges being laid against our colleague, Michael Kovrig,” said Hugh Pope, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group.
“Michael’s work for Crisis Group has been entirely transparent and in the open as all who follow his work can attest. Vague and unsubstantiated accusations against him are unwarranted and unfair.”
After Meng’s arrest, a Chinese court also sentenced a Canadian to death in a sudden retrial, overturning a 15-year prison term handed down earlier. Kovrig and Spavor haven’t had access to a lawyer or to the