China accuses two detained Canadian men of spying

Nick Allen
Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig - AFP

China has accused two detained Canadians of spying, intensifying a diplomatic row between the two countries.

It came just days after Canada announced it will proceed with a request from the United States to extradite Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the telecom giant Huawei.

Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, was accused of spying and stealing state secrets and intelligence, with the help of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor.

It was the first time the two detained men's cases have been linked.

Mr Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank.

Mr Spavor is an entrepreneur known for contacts with high-ranking North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong-un.

According to the official Xinhua news agency Mr Kovrig often entered China using an ordinary passport and business visas, and acquired information from Mr Spavor, who was his "main contact."

The two men were detained in December, days after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder.

Three days ago Canada launched the extradition process against her, angering Beijing, which called the action a "severe political incident".

The US wants to put her on trial on fraud charges for alleged Iran sanctions-busting and lying to US banks about it.

A spokesman for the International Crisis Group said: "We are aware of the Xinhua report but have heard nothing official about any charges being laid against our colleague, Michael Kovrig.

"Michael's work 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."

Meng Wanzhou is due in court in Canada on Wednesday to set a date for the extradition proceedings to start.

Lawyers for the Chinese executive, who is staying at a property she owns in Vancouver after being releases on bail, said she is suing the Canadian government over her arrest.

Separately, Huawei is preparing to sue the US government for banning federal agencies from using its technology, according to a new report.

The Chinese firm is expected to file a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the US of acting unconstitutionally, The New York Times reported.