Meng Wanzhou extradition case wraps up but verdict will take months

  • US is seeking to extradite Huawei chief financial officer
  • Fate of two Canadians held in China seen as linked

After two and a half years of legal wrangling, an extradition hearing over Meng Wanzhou has wrapped up, leaving the fate of Huawei’s chief financial officer – and potentially that of two detained Canadians caught up in a geopolitical tussle – in the hands of a British Columbia judge.

The arrest and legal saga of the telecoms executive has become a source of immense tension between the economic superpowers China and the United States, but it has been Canada – and two of its citizens – that have suffered the steepest collateral damage.

Meng, daughter of the Huawei founder, Ren Zhengfei, was arrested on a provisional warrant on 1 December 2018 as she transited in the Vancouver airport, en route to Mexico City.

In a move widely seen as retaliation by Beijing, two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – were detained days later and eventually charged with espionage-related crimes. Canada has rejected the charges, accusing China of engaging in “hostage diplomacy”. Spavor was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Officials with the US justice department allege that in 2013, Meng misled bankers at HSBC about the relationship between Huawei and affiliate SkyCom, putting the bank at risk of breaching US sanctions against Iran. The US wants her extradited to New York to face criminal charges.

But Meng’s legal team argued earlier this week that the bank had never faced civil or criminal consequences for breaching American sanctions. Over three days, her lawyers also suggested to the court that there had never been a fraud case in Canada where the mere possibility of prosecution would merit charges, especially if no loss was suffered by the victim.

“In this case, there is simply no evidence of a quantifiable or measurable risk of loss to HSBC,” said the defense lawyer Scott Fenton. “We are in a zero loss situation.”

Meng’s legal team also questioned the US evidence, calling it “manifestly unreliable” and suggesting that the only conclusion a court could reasonably make would be to release her.

“We would say fundamental justice demands that Ms Meng not be extradited to face charges on these legally and factually flawed allegations. Accordingly, we would ask you to discharge her,” her lawyer Eric Gottardi told the court.

Both sides agree that Meng told HSBC that Huawei and Skycom did business together in Iran.

But in the final session of the latest round of hearings on Wednesday, lawyers for the Canadian government, representing their American counterparts, argued Meng’s actions in 2013 constituted fraud and that she should face prosecution.

The crown lawyer Robert Frater said the defense was asking the associate chief justice of the British Columbia supreme court, Heather Holmes, to draw inferences and conclusions that were not spelled out in the record of the case – and argued that defense lawyers’ version of events represented an “alternative narrative” to the truth.

In extradition hearings, government lawyers only need to demonstrate that if the crime had been committed in Canada, there would be sufficient evidence to bring the accused to trial.

“We’ve met our burden, and [Meng] should be committed,” said Frater.

In a statement, Huawei Canada said Meng had suffered a number of process abuses, including unlawful detention and violation of international law, calling for her release.

“Ms. Meng’s Charter rights were violated by the abuse of the legal process. The only way to redress the prejudice caused by the abuse is to stay the extradition.”

Holmes, a former prosecutor specializing in corporate crime, has the relatively narrow task of deciding if there is enough evidence to plausibly convict Meng. She has to make her decision based on a record of the case provided by US justice department officials, a timeline of events and potential witnesses.

If she feels the prosecution failed to mount a case with enough proof, she could reject the extradition request.

Lingering in the background is the reality that China appears to have linked the trials of Spavor and Kovrig to pivotal moments in Meng’s extradition case – and that a verdict on Kovrig is expected to follow a decision on Meng’s fate.

Holmes has set the next hearing date for 21 October, when she is expected to give a clearer timeline on when a decision can be expected.

Even if she chooses to approve the extradition request, appeals by Meng could bring the case all the way to the country’s supreme court – a lengthy and costly route that could take eight years.

Contributor

Leyland Cecco in Ottawa

The GuardianTramp

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