Meng Wanzhou extradition case embarrasses Canadian court, lawyer says, rejecting Huawei fraud claim

Ian Young

Lawyers for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou have blasted the US fraud charges against her as an embarrassment to the Canadian court that is judging her extradition hearing, and an improper “pose” intended to apply US sanctions on Iran that had been rejected by “the rest of the civilised world”.

Concluding the first phase of Meng’s high-stakes extradition case after four days of hearings in Vancouver, lawyer Scott Fenton told Madam Justice Heather Holmes in the British Columbia Supreme Court that “there must be actual risk posed to the economic interests of the victim” in a fraud case – an argument referring to the alleged lies Meng told HSBC about Huawei’s business in Iran.

The risk in a fraud case could be small, but not such that there was “no possibility of loss, [which] means no risk at all”.

“The court is being embarrassed”, said Fenton, adding that the case was premised on US sanctions that did not apply in Canada.

Justice Holmes said she was reserving judgment, something she said would “come as no surprise”. She took a moment to praise the “superb” submissions by both sides before adjourning proceedings.

This week’s first phase of Meng’s extradition hearings, which began on Monday more than 13 months after her arrest at Vancouver’s international airport, have been devoted to whether her case passes the test of “double criminality” – the requirement that an extraditable suspect be accused of something that would have been a crime in Canada had it occurred there.

On Wednesday, lead government lawyer Robert Frater, representing US interests in the case, said the case relied on “not a complex theory … lying to a bank in order to get economic services is fraud”.

Meng’s ‘lies’ to HSBC are clear case of fraud, Canadian lawyer tells extradition hearing

The US wants Meng to face trial in New York, accusing her of defrauding HSBC by lying about Huawei’s activities in Iran and thus putting HSBC at risk of breaching US sanctions and potentially facing prosecution, fines and reputational damage.

According to the US indictment, the deception occurred in a Hong Kong teahouse in August 2013, when Meng gave a PowerPoint presentation to a HSBC banker about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom, an affiliate doing business in Iran.

Meng’s lawyers acknowledge that the meeting took place, but disagree on the content of the discussion.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver on Thursday, surrounded by guards. Photo: AP

They have said that even if a deception occurred, the underlying case against Meng is breaching US sanctions, not fraud. Because Canada does not have banking sanctions concerning Iran, the case fails the double-criminality test and Meng should be immediately released, they said.

The US case was an attempt to “dress up … a sanctions-breaking complaint as a case of fraud”, Meng’s team said, calling the fraud accusation “fiction”.

As Meng extradition hearings begin, defence blasts fraud case as ‘fiction’

Her team spent Monday and half of Tuesday making that case. Frater presented his rebuttal in lightning-quick time, taking just over two hours on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Meng's lead lawyer Richard Peck repeatedly invoked Canada’s sovereign status to reject what he characterised as the attempted application of US sanctions laws to Meng’s case.

From 2011 to 2016, Canada “as a sovereign state” had laws on Iran mirroring US sanctions. But these were lifted by Canada in 2016, Peck said.

Then in 2018, when US President Donald Trump abandoned a nuclear deal with Iran, “Canada chose not to follow suit … along with the rest of the civilised world”.

The Huawei Technologies logo in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

“The outlier was the United States,” said Peck. ““We made a deliberate sovereign legislative choice about our policy on this unusual law of sanctions … that decision remains to this day.”

“Right needs to be done,” he added.

This week’s hearings have drawn intense interest, with long queues of spectators and reporters from around the world waiting to get into the high-capacity, high-security Courtroom 20 where Meng ‘s case has been heard behind layers of bulletproof glass.

On Monday, protesters waved placards outside the court complex calling for Meng’s release. But some later told reporters they were paid C$100-C$150 (US$76-US$114) to take part in what they thought was a music video or film shoot.

Free Meng and send $$$ for nudez: Vancouver’s unlikely anti-extradition activists

Meng’s arrest on December 1, 2018, triggered outrage from China’s government, which branded the case political victimisation. Meng, chief financial officer of Huawei, is also the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei.

The arrest came amid the US-China trade war, and intense debate about whether to allow Huawei to take part in the construction of high-speed 5G telecommunications networks around the world.

After Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and accused them of espionage. But outside China their arrests have been viewed as retaliation for Meng’s case.

Since her release on bail 13 months ago, Meng has been living in a C$13.6 million (US$10.4 million) mansion – one of two multimillion-dollar homes she owns in Vancouver – under the guard of a private security team. She must wear a GPS tracker and abide by a curfew, but has otherwise been free to roam the city within certain limits.

Thursday's hearing was attended by China's consul-general in Vancouver, Tong Xiaoling, who sat in the same row of the gallery as other Chinese diplomats, and Meng's husband, Carlos Liu Xiaozong. Tong declined to comment on the case.

Meng Wanzhou extradition battle could stretch past November

The extradition hearings will continue throughout the year. Other arguments will focus on allegations that Meng was the victim of an abuse of due process during her treatment at Vancouver’s airport before her arrest.

The next scheduled hearing is on March 30 for a case management conference, before a week of hearings in late April.

Court appearances are pencilled in until November. But the case could drag on longer – some Canadian extradition cases and appeals have lasted years.

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