Extradition battle for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou could drag through 2020
Lawyers argue Meng's offense isn't a crime in Canada amid continued pressure on Huawei from the US
The extradition battle over Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou could stretch beyond November after lawyers for both sides warned of new litigation to force Canada to disclose more documents related to her case.
The disclosure fight is likely to compel changes to the scheduling of Meng’s formal extradition hearings in Vancouver, although these will begin on Monday, regardless, more than 13 months after Meng was arrested at the city’s international airport at the request of the US.
There have already been months of preliminary hearings.
Canadian government lawyers acting on behalf of the US said at a case-management conference at the British Columbia Supreme Court on Friday that they would likely seek to deny Meng access to some requested evidence, asserting privilege over the documents.
That would mean this issue might have to be litigated at an April hearing already scheduled to discuss other matters.
This would have knock-on effects on the rest of the extradition case, which is drawing worldwide attention amid the US-China trade war and intense debate among US allies about whether to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to take part in 5G internet networks.
Asked outside court if this development meant the case would need to be extended beyond the final court dates reserved for the case in November, Canadian government lawyer John Gibb-Carsley told the South China Morning Post: “It’s a possibility.”
He declined to speculate whether the case would continue into 2021.
A spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Meng or her lawyers.
Both sides had warned Justice Heather Holmes of the looming new arguments over the documents.
The Canadian side has until February 28 to fulfill Meng’s disclosure requests, with Holmes agreeing to schedule new discussions over how to manage the sprawling case if Canada asserts privilege over the contentious material, as expected.
The nature of the material was not disclosed.
Meng is currently scheduled to face court for four days next week, with further court time penciled in until November.
But some extradition cases last for years, and the US’ attempts to extradite Meng to New York to face charges of bank fraud related to possible breaches of American sanctions on Iran have been fiercely contested.
Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the firm’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, is currently out on bail at her C$13.6 million (US$10.4 million) mansion in Vancouver. She is under the guard of a private security team so she cannot flee, and must wear a GPS tracker on her ankle, abide by a curfew and stay away from the airport.
Next week, the formal hearings get underway with arguments about whether the case against Meng satisfies the extradition requirement of “double criminality”: her alleged offences would have had to represent a crime in Canada had they been committed there, as well as in the US.
Meng is accused of defrauding HSBC by misleading it about Huawei’s business in Iran, supposedly in breach of US sanctions.
Canada’s lawyers say the underlying accusation is fraud, but Meng’s lawyers say it is a “case of US sanction enforcement masquerading as fraud.” Breaching US sanctions on Iran is not a crime in Canada.
“On any fair reading [it] is apparent that exposure to US sanctions risk is a fundamental aspect of the allegations,” Meng’s lawyers said in a submission released on Friday.
The battle over Meng’s fate has sent Canada’s relations with China plunging to new lows. In December 2018, China arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, accusing them of spying. But their detention is widely perceived as retaliation for Meng’s arrest on December 1.
Canada’s former deputy prime minister John Manley last month suggested freeing Meng in a “prisoner exchange,” to secure the release of Kovrig and Spavor. On Thursday, Eddie Goldenberg, who was chief of staff for former prime minister Jean Chretien, also suggested a prisoner swap, telling the Globe and Mail newspaper that “there is no circumstance under which China will agree to release the hostages unless Ms Meng comes home.”
Meng’s lawyers have asserted that her arrest was political, citing US President Donald Trump’s comments that he might intervene in her case if it were in US economic interests.