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A spy row has broken out between the two Canadian men imprisoned for three years in China on espionage charges in 2018.
Michael Spavor is seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement from the Canadian government, the Globe and Mail reported, over allegations that the other jailed man, Michael Kovrig, was linked to Ottawa’s intelligence services.
The newspaper said that Mr Spavor claims he had not realised that Mr Kovrig, a former diplomat in Canada’s foreign service, was a spy and that information he passed to him on North Korea would end up in the hands of the Five Eyes intelligence network.
Both men, known as the “Two Michaels”, were subjected to interrogations for up to eight hours a day during their imprisonment, in what is thought to be a retaliation for the arrest of a Huawei employee in Canada.
Their arrest caused a major diplomatic incident between Canada and China that was ultimately resolved with their release in September 2021.
Sources speaking to the Globe and Mail said Mr Spavor is now looking for a multimillion dollar-settlement from Canada over his imprisonment, and has threatened to sue the government for using intelligence he had gathered in North Korea without his consent.
Mr Spavor is one of the few Westerners with a personal relationship with Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader, and has been photographed jet-skiing and drinking cocktails with him on a private yacht.
He was later charged with spying for a foreign entity and illegally procuring state secrets, while Mr Kovrig was charged with receiving state secrets and conspiring with Mr Spavor.
A “highly placed” source told the Globe and Mail that Mr Kovrig was considered an intelligence asset during his postings in Hong Kong and China.
Huawei CFO arrest
The two men’s imprisonment in China coincided with the arrest and prosecution of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei and daughter of the company’s founder, on charges of bank and wire fraud.
Although the Chinese government denied any connection between the Meng case and the Two Michaels, they were released in China on the same day she was released in Canada after prosecutors dropped charges and an extradition request against her.
A Canadian foreign ministry spokesman said both men were free to “speak out about their experience of their arbitrary detention in China”, but said “no further information could be disclosed” due to “privacy considerations”.
“China’s arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was unjust and unacceptable,” the spokesman said.
“As the PM noted in 2021, China’s conviction of Michael Spavor on charges of espionage were unfounded, and came after a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.
“Perpetuating the notion that either Michael was involved in espionage is only perpetuating a false narrative under which they were detained by China. These two men went through an unbelievably difficult ordeal and every day of their arbitrary detention showed strength, perseverance, resilience and grace.”