by Beiyi Seow

A Chinese court on Wednesday jailed Canadian businessman Michael Spavor for 11 years after finding him guilty of spying in a case his country has decried as “trumped up”.

Spavor was detained in 2018 along with compatriot Michael Kovrig in what Ottawa said was a politically motivated move after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on a US extradition warrant.

Michael Spavor.

Relations between the two countries have hit rock bottom, with China also accusing Canada of politicising legal cases.

Spavor “was convicted of espionage and illegally providing state secrets”, Dandong city’s Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement.

“He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.”

The Spavor verdict comes a day after a Chinese court upheld the death sentence of another Canadian citizen on a drug smuggling conviction.

Spavor and Kovrig — a former diplomat — were formally charged with spying in June last year, and their separate trials took place in March.

The pair have had almost no contact with the outside world since their detention.

Virtual consular visits resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus, which authorities said was due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadian diplomats were barred from entering Spavor’s trial in Dandong this March, which lasted less than three hours.

His family have maintained he was innocent of the accusations against him, saying he had done much as a businessman to “build constructive ties” between Canada, China and North Korea.

While Beijing has insisted the detention of the two Canadians is lawful, it calls Meng’s case “a purely political incident”.

Meng Wanzhou. File photo: Huawei.

Spavor’s verdict comes a week after fresh hearings in the Meng case began in Vancouver following nearly three years of court battles and diplomatic sparring.

Her hearings are due to end on August 20 but no decision is expected for several months.

Observers say the likely verdicts and sentences for both Canadians will track Meng’s trial.

Before the verdict, Canada’s former ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, told AFP that Spavor would likely receive a “harsh sentence” as Chinese leaders seek to pressure Canada into returning Meng.

Associate Professor Lynette Ong of the University of Toronto added: “If we see this as the beginning of a political bargaining process, the Chinese (are) likely to want to appear strong in the first instance.”

China’s judicial system convicts most people who stand trial.

Spavor “was convicted of espionage and illegally providing state secrets. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison,” a statement from Dandong city’s Intermediate People’s Court said.

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