Aug 05, 2021 08:31 AM

Huawei CFO Enters Final Extradition Hearings Facing Steep Odds

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer, leaves her home to attend the Supreme Court in Vancouver, Canada, on April 19. Photo: Bloomberg
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer, leaves her home to attend the Supreme Court in Vancouver, Canada, on April 19. Photo: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer faces long odds as her extradition fight enters its final phases, more than two and a half years after her arrest triggered an unprecedented diplomatic impasse between China, the U.S. and Canada.

A team of lawyers for Meng Wanzhou, 49, will seek to convince a Vancouver judge in hearings that begin Wednesday that the U.S. request to extradite her from Canada is deeply flawed, that her rights were abused, and that she should be released. If history is any guide, that argument will be tough — of the 798 U.S. handover requests received since 2008, Canada has only refused or discharged eight, according to Canada’s Department of Justice. Forty cases were withdrawn by the U.S.

“It’s going to be precedent-setting whichever way it goes,” says Gary Botting, a Canadian extradition lawyer who has worked on hundreds of cases but isn’t involved in this one. A win for Meng would be notable because discharges are so rare. A loss would validate a U.S. claim that it has the right to pursue a case in which the accused, the site of the alleged offense and the victim have no links to the U.S., he said.

The December 2018 arrest of Meng — the eldest daughter of Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei — during a routine stopover in Vancouver triggered a politically explosive series of events. Within days, China imprisoned two Canadian citizens and demanded Meng’s release, calling her case a “political persecution against a Chinese high-tech enterprise.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to intervene in the judicial process but has also pressed the U.S. to take a more active role in securing the release of the two Canadians.

The Meng case underscores an expansive effort by the U.S. government to contain Huawei, which Washington has designated as a national security threat. In early 2019, federal prosecutors charged the Chinese technology giant and Meng with fraud, alleging they lied to HSBC Holdings Plc about Huawei’s operations in Iran as part of a scheme to violate U.S. trade sanctions. A superseding indictment the following year expanded the allegations, saying Huawei installed equipment for the Iranian government that was used to spy on dissidents and accusing Meng of multiple false statements about the company’s activities in Iran.

Challenging Case

“This was a political prosecution all along -- this case is about leverage, about trade, and about geopolitics, but what it’s not about is justice,” said Alykhan Velshi, Huawei’s vice president of corporate affairs, referring to arguments that the U.S. extradition request contained misstatements and omitted key evidence.

Meng, who could face up to 30 years if convicted in the U.S., denies any wrongdoing. She has amassed one of the most formidable defense teams that Canada has ever seen in an extradition case, with more than a dozen lawyers appearing on her behalf in court. Meng’s defense team didn’t respond to requests for comment.

One of her central arguments aims to dispute a key pillar of the U.S. case -- that she allegedly misled an HSBC banker about Huawei’s Iran business at 2013 meeting at a Hong Kong teahouse. Her lawyers argue the U.S. has no jurisdiction to demand the handover of a Chinese national for an alleged crime in Hong Kong involving a British bank. Meng suffered a setback in July when the court denied her request to admit evidence obtained from HSBC that she said would demonstrate the bank was never misled and was fully cognizant of Huawei’s activities in Iran.

Meng also argues there was an abuse of process during her arrest at Vancouver airport, saying that Canadian border agents, police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation unlawfully used the pretext of an immigration check to get her to disclose evidence to use in the criminal case against her.

The final round of hearings are scheduled to continue through to Aug. 20. British Columbia Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes will decide the case. If she rules against extradition, Meng would be free to leave Canada. If she rules in favor, Meng will be able to appeal the decision.

Legal scholars have long argued that Canada’s 1999 extradition law makes it almost impossible for the accused to mount a defense by reducing the role of the judges to that of a rubber stamp, unable to deny requests even when the evidence is weak or unreliable.

“It is well-known among defense lawyers that arrest of a client on an extradition warrant means they are usually facing a process that is practically a fait accompli,” Robert Currie, a law professor at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University who specializes in extradition issues, wrote in September paper published in the peer-reviewed Manitoba Law Journal.

“A well-known joke about extradition is that there is only one question that needs answering: aisle or window seat?” wrote Currie.

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