Cheers erupt in Canadian courtroom as judge frees Huawei’s Sabrina Meng Wanzhou on US$7.5m bail

  • The ruling came after friends of Sabrina Meng Wanzhou offered Vancouver homes worth millions of dollars as bail collateral
  • Husband Liu Xiaozong pumped his fist in victory as Meng wiped away tears in the packed courtroom
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 3:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 2:56am

Applause erupted in a Canadian courtroom when a Vancouver judge ordered that Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou be released on C$10 million (US$7.5 million) bail.

Mr Justice William Ehrcke on Tuesday ordered that Meng wear a GPS ankle bracelet, submit to the 24-hour supervision of a private security firm, and surrender her two Hong Kong and Chinese passports. She will live in a Vancouver home she owns with husband Liu Xiaozong that is worth C$5.6 million (US$4.2 million).

Meng finally walked free from the court building at 8pm, wearing a red down jacket, and was whisked away by her new security detail in a Cadillac Escalade.

The ruling was the culmination of a marathon three-day bail hearing for Meng, who had been imprisoned since her arrest at Vancouver International Airport on December 1, at the request of the United States, which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges related to alleged breaches of US and EU sanctions on Iran. The case has prompted a furious reaction from China and state media, describing her treatment as “vile” and warning of “grave consequences” unless she was released.

Hundreds of supporters of Meng and Huawei from the Chinese community had attended the hearing on Monday and Tuesday, with some outside protesting for her release.

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Ehrcke told the British Columbia Supreme Court that bail would be set at C$10 million, including a cash deposit of C$7 million (US$5.2 million) from Meng and her husband, and C$3 million (US$2.2 million) pledged by local friends who put up a mix of cash and home equity. The judge was scathing about parts of the US case against Meng, calling them “entirely speculative”.

As the judge finished issuing his ruling, to the applause of spectators, Liu leaned forward in his seat and clasped his face in apparent relief. He looked Meng in the eye through two layers of bulletproof glass, grinned broadly and pumped his fist in victory.

Meng wiped tears from her eyes as her lawyers congratulated her.

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Ehrcke told Meng to return to court on February 6 to set a date for her extradition hearing. He commended all parties for their conduct in a “most unusual” case, which he said displayed Canada’s “independent judiciary” to its best.

Lawyer John Gibb-Carsley, representing the attorney general of Canada on behalf of the United States, had strongly opposed Meng’s release, arguing that she had vast resources at her disposal that made her an unacceptable flight risk.

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Huawei issued a statement moments after the decision.

“We have every confidence that the Canadian and US legal systems will reach a just conclusion in the following proceedings,” it said.

“As we have stressed all along, Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including export control and sanction laws of the UN, US, and EU.

“We look forward to a timely resolution to this matter.”

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Barrister Gary Botting, an extradition expert who advised Meng’s legal team, said she “should never have been arrested in the first place”.

“This is the United States trying to flex its muscles and take attention away from other things,” said Botting, who said the bail result had been expected by Meng’s team.

Earlier, a series of Vancouver residents pledged homes worth millions of dollars to secure Meng’s release.

Meng’s lawyer, David J Martin, had argued that she would never flee because this would shame her before her father – Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei – and all of China.

He said the Vancouver friends lining up to act as surety for Meng were “fine folk”.

“These are people pledging their homes, money and confidence to Ms Meng,” he said.

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Meng owns two homes in Vancouver worth a total of C$21.9 million (US$16.4 million), once lived in Vancouver herself as an immigrant and has been a regular traveller to the city. She relinquished Canadian residency in 2009, although Liu, their daughter, and two of Meng’s three sons from a previous marriage had lived in the city for years afterwards.

As part of the terms of her bail, Meng will pay for the private security detail who will monitor her 24 hours a day and seize her if she tries to escape. She will not be under total house arrest at her 3,735 sq ft West 28th Avenue home; Meng will be subject to a 11pm-6am curfew, but otherwise allowed to roam a fixed area of Vancouver and nearby Richmond.

A GPS tracker will trigger an alarm if she tries to remove or destroy the tracker, or if she goes outside the allowable area. She is barred from going near Vancouver’s airport.

As the third day of the hearing got underway on Tuesday, Martin provided to the judge the list of people who could act as surety, in addition to Liu, who no longer holds Canadian residency and is visiting on a tourist visa. That had been a point of contention for Gibb-Carsley, opposing bail.

Meng’s guarantors included the Vancouver property agent who helped Meng and Liu buy both their homes here. They were purchased in 2009 and 2016.

“We now meet every year – I consider them good friends,” said the property agent, Robert Cheng, pledging his C$1.8 million home as surety.

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A Vancouver couple, one of whom worked with Meng at Huawei in the 1990s, pledged C$500,000 in home equity to act as surety. They said they understood they could lose their C$1.4 million home if she fled.

A Vancouver homemaker whose husband also once worked at Huawei with Meng and “knew Ms Meng very well”, pledged equity in their C$6 million home, and also offered to act as personal surety.

Martin said that a yoga instructor named Ms Peng was in the public gallery with a cheque for C$50,000 that she would hand over immediately if Meng was granted bail.

Peng, a former neighbour, said she had spent much “quality time” with Meng and Liu in Vancouver and she believed Meng would not jeopardise her finances by fleeing.

Ehrcke later clarified that the home equity and cash being pledged by Meng’s friends amounted to C$3 million.

Before the ruling, Gibb-Carsely had said it was inappropriate for Liu to act as surety for his wife, since the role was primarily one of supervision, as a “jailer in the community” – and that financial pledges were secondary.

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“Because their ordinary lives are in China … it is inconceivable to me that if she were to go [and flee], that he wouldn’t go with her,” Gibb-Carsely had said.

“Their interests are aligned … he is not an appropriate surety [and] he should be excluded,” Gibb-Carsley added.

In the end, that argument was rendered moot by the line-up of local friends offering to act as Meng’s guarantors.

Outside court, supporters of Meng had eagerly awaited the bail result.

A man who identified himself only as James, a 20-year resident of Canada, said he regarded Meng as “a sister” to fellow Chinese. It was his second day protesting at the hearing.

James said he did not read newspapers but had followed Meng’s case avidly on WeChat groups. He was incensed by unconfirmed reports that Meng had been shackled during court transfers, calling it “such an insult”.

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“She is a mother of four children,” he said. “She is not a murderer … they should release her. Not bail. Just release.”

The hearings have been heavily attended by members of the public, many loudly supportive of Meng. Heavy rain kept numbers down on Tuesday compared to the day before, when hundreds showed up,

But the 149-seat gallery in the high-security Courtroom 20 was still packed, with dozens watching proceedings outside on video monitors.

Just ahead of the ruling, there was high anticipation that Meng would be released; one of her lawyers brought a Longchamp duffel bag into court, which he showed Liu.

Meng returned to court after the lunch break in a buoyant mood, laughing with the lawyer who brought the bag.

In oral reasoning for his decision, Ehrcke said that a warrant had been issued for Meng’s arrest on August 22 in New York, but that the US had “not yet filed a certified record of the case”.

In a statement of facts, though, the US accused Meng of conspiring to deceive “numerous” financial institutions about Huawei’s business in Iran in breach of sanctions – specifically, that Huawei used an unofficial subsidiary called Skycom to do business in Iran.

The claims were strongly denied by Meng, Ehrcke noted.

“I am innocent of the allegations against me,” Meng said in an affidavit read out by Ehrcke.

Ehrcke dismissed suggestions that Meng held multiple passports; only two valid passports existed, one issued by China and one by Hong Kong, he said.

The judge was also sharply critical of US assertions that Meng had deliberately avoided travel to the US since March 2017 because she was aware of a grand jury investigation into Huawei.

That, Ehrcke said, was “entirely speculative” and “without any reliable foundation”.

The US has until January 29 to file a formal extradition request.