Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor landed early Saturday morning in Calgary after China freed the two men in a deal that saw Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou return home to China.
The two Michaels landed in Calgary at 5:40 a.m. local time Saturday. They were flown to the city, where Mr. Spavor’s family lives, by a Royal Canadian Air Force Challenger jet that came from Anchorage, Alaska.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the two Canadians, who spent more than 1,000 days in prison, at the airport. Video posted by CTV shows Mr. Trudeau hugging the two Michaels.
Mr. Spavor remained in Calgary. Mr. Kovrig arrived in Toronto in the early afternoon where he was greeted by his sister, Ariana, and wife, Vina Nadjibulla, who said they were elated to have him home.
“Joy, relief, overwhelming gratitude for everyone who has worked to make this happen,” Ms. Nadjibulla told reporters at the airport. “I find myself at a loss for words because the moment is so incredible.”
She and Mr. Kovrig’s sister, Ariana, were at the Skyservice terminal to greet him as he departed the plane Saturday afternoon. The trio wandered over to a cluster of reporters gathered outside the terminal for a few brief minutes before leaving in a black SUV.
“[I feel] fantastic, thank you very much,” Mr. Kovrig told reporters. “It’s fantastic to be back in Canada, and I’m immensely grateful for everybody who worked so hard to bring [both Michaels] home. We’ll have much more for you later,” he said, putting his arm around his wife and sister.
Asked by reporters to describe her first FaceTime conversation with Mr. Kovrig after he was released, Ms. Nadjibulla said “it was much more about seeing his face, saying all the things that one says after not seeing each other for more than 1,000 days. So just kind of connecting, asking if he’s healthy, how is he feeling. What’s going on, where is he? So, just telling him ‘I can’t wait to see you in Toronto – that we’ll be there.’ ”
China freed Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig after the U.S. Justice Department reached a deferred prosecution agreement with Huawei Technologies CFO Ms. Meng, ending an almost three-year prison ordeal for the two men that ruptured Canada-China relations.
Mr. Trudeau called a late news conference on Friday to say the two Canadians, accompanied by Canada’s ambassador Dominic Barton, flew out of China after Ms. Meng left Vancouver to return home.
“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult situation, but it is inspiring and it is good news for all of us that they are on their way home to their families,” Mr. Trudeau said Friday.
The Prime Minister said the two Michaels went through a “terrible time,” spending more than 1,000 days in Chinese prisons with the lights on 24 hours a day.
“They have shown determination, grace and resilience every step of the way. They have been an inspiration to all of us,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau declined to say what the resolution would mean for Canada-China relations, which hit their worst point since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. “Right now, our focus is on getting these two Canadians home safe. They have been through an extremely difficult ordeal,” Mr. Trudeau said.
A senior government official said Canada did not make any concessions to obtain the release. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source who was not authorized to speak about the matter.
China locked up the two Canadians in December, 2018, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Ms. Meng, a member of China’s corporate elite, on a U.S. extradition warrant to face fraud charges related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The Canadian government has said they are victims of hostage diplomacy.
Ms. Meng appeared by teleconference on Friday before a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn, where a judge approved the legal arrangement between the United States and the Huawei executive. In the deal, she accepted a significant portion of the U.S. government’s case against her, including an attempt to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran. But she did not have to pay a fine or enter a guilty plea as part of the arrangement, in which the charges will be deferred and then dismissed on Dec. 1, 2022.
In the agreement, which is not an admission of guilt, Ms. Meng accepted that she made “untrue” statements to bankers about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom Tech Co. Ltd., which conducted business in Iran and was in fact controlled by the Chinese company. She accepted that Huawei caused Skycom to conduct about $100-million worth of U.S.-dollar transactions via a bank that cleared them through the United States – “at least some of which supported its work in Iran in violation of U.S. law.”
Her acceptance of these facts as part of the deal could help the United States in its continuing prosecution of Huawei over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions law.
“In entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution,” Nicole Boeckmann, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Meng’s admissions confirm the crux of the government’s allegations in the prosecution of this financial fraud – that Meng and her fellow Huawei employees engaged in a concerted effort to deceive global financial institutions, the U.S. government, and the public about Huawei’s activities in Iran.”
Ms. Meng appeared later in the day in a Vancouver courtroom, where the extradition proceedings were stayed and her bail conditions lifted, allowing the Chinese telecom executive to leave the country.
At the close of proceedings in B.C. Supreme Court, after the Canadian Justice Department withdrew the case against Ms. Meng, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes thanked Ms. Meng for her co-operation.
“You have been co-operative and courteous throughout. The court appreciates and thanks you for that.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Ms. Meng replied in English. She later burst into tears as she hugged her lawyers.
“Now, she will be free to return home to be with her family,” Ms. Meng’s U.S. lawyer William Taylor said in a statement, noting his client “will not be prosecuted further in the United States.”
Ms. Meng has been out on bail and living in a $13.7-million Vancouver home while Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were in Chinese jail cells where the lights are on 24 hours a day.
Speaking to reporters after her court appearance, Ms. Meng thanked Justice Holmes “for her fairness” and the Canadian government “for upholding the rule of law.”
Ms. Meng talked of how hard this has been for her: “My life has been turned upside down. It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and a company executive.”
The Globe and Mail reported on Sept. 17 that the U.S. Department of Justice had resumed talks on a deal with Huawei and lawyers for Ms. Meng, daughter of Ren Zhengfei, founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant. This followed a hiatus in negotiations since late 2020, when the U.S. government under the Trump administration’s Justice Department first attempted talks with Ms. Meng.
A former federal prosecutor in the United States said he could not remember another prosecution involving a high-profile person, with so much time and resources put into it by U.S. authorities, that ended in a deferred prosecution agreement with a simple release and no provision for ongoing co-operation.
“I would even probably call it a rare use of a deferred prosecution agreement,” said Michael McAuliffe, who has worked in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington and as an assistant U.S. attorney in South Florida. “One gets the sense that they’ve come up short of their original objectives.”
He said the agreement means Ms. Meng is essentially free of any involvement with U.S. prosecutors.
“Because the agreement has no co-operation provision (and no requirement of even being accessible to prosecutors) and she will be in China at least until the end of the agreement, her involvement in the matter and with the U.S. authorities appears over,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an e-mail. “A stunning change from being on an ankle bracelet ... and facing extradition, trial and potential imprisonment.”
The Canadian government had been pressing the Biden administration to reopen negotiations with Ms. Meng and Huawei lawyers for a DPA to help end the dispute, which put Ottawa in the middle of a superpower standoff between Washington and Beijing.
China accused Canada of acting as a U.S. puppet by detaining Ms. Meng and slapped punitive trade sanctions on some Canadian agriculture products after the arrest of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.
In June, The Globe reported that Mr. Barton was in Washington for three weeks this spring in talks with senior officials in the Biden administration aimed at facilitating the release of the two Canadians.
Mr. Barton met with officials from the White House National Security Council and the departments of Justice, State, Defense, Treasury and Commerce. He also held talks with Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States.
China put Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor on trial in March of this year. They were charged with spying as part of a process that Canada and dozens of allies call arbitrary detention on bogus charges in a closed system of justice with no accountability.
A Chinese court in August found Mr. Spavor guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. He appealed the ruling. The verdict for Mr. Kovrig had yet to be announced.
With reports from The Globe’s Molly Hayes, Sean Fine, Mike Hager and Wendy Stueck.