Michael Peter Todd Spavor, born in 1976, is a Canadian consultant renowned for his extensive work within North Korea.
He serves as the director and founding member of Paektu Cultural Exchange, an NGO dedicated to fostering sports, cultural, tourism, and business collaborations involving North Korea.
In December 2018, while residing and working in Dandong, situated on the Chinese side of the China–North Korea border, Spavor was apprehended by Chinese authorities along with Michael Kovrig.
This event was widely perceived as responding to Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Subsequently, on August 10, 2021, Spavor was convicted of espionage and sentenced to an 11-year prison term.
But on September 24, 2021, after Meng Wanzhou’s extradition request was withdrawn due to her agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Spavor was set free.
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Michael Spavor’s Personal History
Michael Spavor, originally from Toronto, Ontario, boasts a degree in international relations from the University of Calgary, specializing in the Korean Peninsula and East Asian Studies.
His academic journey also involved studies at Kangwon National University in South Korea with a major in International Trade and Political Science.
Proficient in both the North Korean dialect of Korean and French, Spavor’s language skills have been a key asset throughout his career.
He first visited North Korea in 2001, starting his ties with the country. Then, in 2005, he became the managing director of a Vancouver NGO and taught for six months at a school in Pyongyang.
He crossed paths with American defector James Joseph Dresnok in Pyongyang during this period. Additionally, Spavor cultivated a friendship with Kenji Fujimoto, the former sushi chef of Kim Jong-il, meeting him initially in Japan in early 2016 and reuniting in April of that same year.
While in South Korea, Spavor pursued studies at Kangwon National University and contributed to the Korea and Seoul Tourism Organization.
From 2010 to 2013, he was on the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch Council, giving talks and arranging cultural trips.
Notably, he garnered attention for the restoration and habitation of a hanok in Bugahyeon-dong, western Seoul. He made an appearance in a music video for the K-pop group SES.
His involvement with various organizations includes working for the Pyongyang Project from 2010 to 2013, an entity focused on educational exchanges in North Korea and providing scholarships for North Korean students abroad. In 2015, he founded the Paektu Cultural Exchange.
Spavor’s ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are notable, particularly showcased in September 2013 when he facilitated Dennis Rodman’s second visit to North Korea, becoming one of the rare Westerners to meet Kim in Wonsan.
Subsequently, he orchestrated Rodman’s 2014 visit. Moreover, Spavor has been engaged in the financial development of Wonsan, a significant priority for Kim Jong-un, who has invested a substantial amount, estimated at least $150 million, into the city.
In recent news from November 2023, reports surfaced indicating Spavor’s decision to sue the federal government for implicating him in espionage activities without his knowledge.
Seeking a multimillion-dollar settlement, Spavor claims that the sensitive information he provided to Michael Kovrig was clandestinely handed over to the Canadian government and its Five Eyes surveillance services without his consent.
He alleges that Kovrig’s intelligence work led to the arrest and detention of both Canadians.
Paektu Cultural Exchange
In January 2016, Spavor and the Paektu Cultural Exchange took legal action against Paddy Power by filing a European Order for Payment.
They did this because Paddy Power needed to follow through on their contract after pulling out sponsorship for a basketball event in North Korea.
By March 2016, Spavor orchestrated the Pyongyang International Friendship Ice Hockey Exhibition (PIFIHE), orchestrating the participation of approximately 20 foreign hockey players in North Korea.
This event, which included two Canadian residents of South Korea, comprised a series of games and workshops.
During a 2017 qualifying match for the 2018 Winter Olympics between the North and South Korean women’s ice hockey teams, Spavor faced an altercation.
He was physically assaulted by South Korean security officials when trying to exhibit the North Korean flag.
Apart from his engagement in sports exchanges, Spavor was pivotal in renovating the Ryongwang Pavilion in Pyongyang.
For four years, he collaborated with North Korea’s National Administration and the Prince Claus Fund for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, dedicating substantial effort to the restoration project.
Recognized for his expertise in North Korea, Spavor is frequently sought out by analysts and journalists for insights.
However, he has been notably reserved when commenting on political and human rights issues within North Korea.
Detention in China
In December 2018, Chinese authorities detained Michael Spavor along with Michael Kovrig, another Canadian citizen, under charges related to endangering state security.
He was detained shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer. This caused a growing disagreement between China and Canada in their diplomatic relations.
Spavor and Kovrig reportedly endured solitary confinement without outdoor access and were subjected to continuous lighting and surveillance for 24 hours a day, enduring 6 to 8 hours of daily interrogations. Until February 1, 2019, China permitted three consular visits for them.
During Spavor’s detention, suspicious activities on his social media accounts were noticed by friends, raising concerns that Chinese interrogators might have accessed his accounts.
In mid-December 2018, a GoFundMe initiative was launched to gather funds for Spavor’s legal and travel expenses upon release.
However, three weeks later, on January 7, 2019, the crowdfunding platform terminated the campaign. Despite raising Can$14,000 before its termination, GoFundMe allocated less than $500 to the intended beneficiary, Spavor’s brother.
Although GoFundMe did not explain, speculation arose that it might be due to Spavor’s previous advocacy for tourism in North Korea, a nation under U.S. sanctions.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert, expressed surprise at Spavor’s involvement in what he termed a “hostage game,” highlighting Spavor’s modest background and lack of familial ties to influential Canadian entities.
Friends described Spavor as someone driven solely by his passion for Korea, emphasizing his disinterest in politics and his focus on personal connections and cross-cultural friendships irrespective of geopolitical tensions.
As high-level diplomatic discussions between Chinese and American officials approached, Spavor’s trial date was announced.
On March 19, 2021, a two-hour closed-door court session concluded without an immediate verdict, with the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court stating its intention to announce a decision later.
Due to the case’s connection to Chinese national security law, the Canadian Embassy’s charge d’affaires was denied entry to offer consular support.
Representatives from various countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, also sought access but were similarly denied.
On August 10, 2021, a Chinese court handed down an 11-year prison sentence to Spavor, along with a mention of an eventual deportation without specifying a specific timeline for the process.
However, after the dismissal of Meng Wanzhou’s case, Spavor was swiftly released on September 24, 2021, and promptly returned to Canada, marking the conclusion of his detainment in China.
FAQs About Michael Spavor
Why was Michael Spavor in China?
On December 10, 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou based on a U.S. extradition request, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained separately in China on charges related to violating national security laws.
Their duration in Chinese custody was extended to 1,020 days before their eventual release.
Does Michael Spavor have a family?
In his initial public statement following his return to Canada, Michael Spavor expressed immense joy and gratitude for reuniting with his family.
When was Michael Spavor detained?
On December 10, 2018, Michael Kovrig was apprehended in Beijing at a similar time as Michael Spavor, a Canadian consultant known for his ties to Kim Jong-un and his extensive involvement in working with North Korea.
Where was Michael Spavor born?
Michael Spavor hails from Toronto, Ontario. His academic credentials include a degree in international relations from the University of Calgary, specializing in the Korean Peninsula and East Asian Studies.
Studying International Trade and Political Science at Kangwon National University in South Korea expanded his educational pursuits, substantially enhancing his expertise in these areas.
This academic venture significantly deepened his knowledge and field knowledge, amplifying his expertise.
Is Michael Kovrig separated from his wife?
In 2017, the couple parted ways; however, Nadjibulla had been at the forefront of endeavors to secure his release.
She expressed her overwhelming emotions to Global News: “It’s been an incredible day. I’m at a loss for words.” She reflected on their recent walk symbolizing hope – a journey of 7,000 steps towards their liberation.
Now, witnessing their newfound freedom in Canada, she remarked, “Just two weeks ago, we walked for them – 7,000 steps to their freedom – and here they are, free at last in Canada.”
Who is the Canadian on death row in China?
In November 2018, Schellenberg received a 15-year prison sentence in China on charges related to drug smuggling.
However, following Meng’s detention at Vancouver International Airport on a warrant from the U.S. in 2019, Schellenberg underwent retrial and was subsequently sentenced to death about a month later.
- Wikipedia: Michael Spavor
- FTI Consulting: FTI Consulting Acquires Andersch AG
- NBC News: China-Canada Diplomatic Dispute Explained
- Wikipedia: Detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig
- South China Morning Post: Canada’s Michael Spavor Blames Fellow Prisoner Michael Kovrig
- The Globe and Mail: What We Know About Michael Spavor and Michael
- CBC News: Michael Spavor’s Public Statement
- Global News: West Block: Michael Kovrig
- CBC News: Robert Schellenberg’s Death Sentence and Meng Wanzhou
- TVW Network: Michael Spavor’s Wife and Family
- NBC News: China-Canada Diplomatic Dispute Explained