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China court upholds Canadian's death sentence as Huawei executive fights extradition

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By Reuters
China court upholds Canadian's death sentence as Huawei executive fights extradition
China court upholds Canadian's death sentence as Huawei executive fights extradition   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Yew Lun Tian and David Ljunggren

BEIJING/OTTAWA -A Chinese court upheld on Tuesday a Canadian man’s death sentence for drug smuggling, a day before another court is due to rule on the case of another Canadian accused of spying.

The court proceedings for the two Canadians come as lawyers in Canada representing the detained chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei make a final push to convince a court there not to extradite her to the United States, where she faces charges linked to violating sanctions.

Robert Schellenberg was arrested in China in 2014 for suspected drug smuggling, convicted in 2018 and jailed for 15 years.

He appealed but a court in the city of Dalian then sentenced him to death in January 2019 – a month after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a warrant from the United States.

She was charged with misleading HSBC Holdings PLC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, potentially causing the bank to violate American economic sanctions against Tehran.

Meng, who has said she is innocent, has been fighting her extradition from under house arrest in Vancouver.

The High Court in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning heard Schellenberg’s appeal against the death sentence in May last year and confirmed the verdict on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters by telephone after attending the hearing, Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, condemned the decision and called for China to grant clemency.

“It is not a coincidence that these are happening right now, while the case is going on in Vancouver,” Barton said, referring to Schellenberg’s case and that of another Canadian, Michael Spavor.

China has rejected the suggestion that the cases of the Canadians in China are linked to Meng’s case in Canada though Beijing has warned of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released.

“Schellenberg’s case is of a completely different nature from Meng’s case. Those who link the two together have ulterior motives,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The spokesperson also said the facts were clear in Schellenberg’s case, the evidence “solid and robust” and the “sentencing procedures are lawful”.

An European Union spokesperson expressed concern on Tuesday about due process in China and the “arbitrariness” of the case, and called for clemency for Schellenberg.

Separately, businessman Spavor was detained in China days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver. He was charged with espionage in June last year and went to trial in March.

Barton said a court in the northeastern city of Dandong, on a river bordering North Korea, is expected to announce a verdict on Spavor on Wednesday.

A third Canadian, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, was also arrested in China days after Meng’s arrest and charged with espionage. His trial was conducted in March. A verdict has not yet been reported.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of more than 99%.

Some observers have said the likely convictions of both Spavor and Kovrig could ultimately facilitate an agreement in which they are released and sent back to Canada.

Since Meng’s arrest, China has sentenced at least three Chinese-born Canadians to death for drug offences – Fan Wei in April 2019, and Ye Jianhui and Xu Weihong in August last year.