Meng Wanzhou
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Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office in Vancouver, British Columbia on December 12. Photo: The Canadian Press via AP

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case will go ahead, Canada says after ‘thorough review of evidence’

  • A “thorough and diligent review of the evidence” determined a case for Meng’s extradition could be presented to a judge, Canadian officials said
Meng Wanzhou

This story was co-produced in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Steven Overly and SCMP’s Wendy Wu on on March 1, 2019.

Canada said on Friday it would launch proceedings to extradite a top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei to the United States – setting the stage for a lengthy diplomatic dust-up among the three countries and threatening to throw a wrench into US-China trade talks.

The Justice Department has accused Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, of violating US sanctions against Iran by deliberately misleading banks about the company’s business dealings there. Meng is the daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei.

Canadian officials conducted a “thorough and diligent review of the evidence” and determined it was sufficient to present the case to a judge for extradition, the Canadian Justice Department said in a news release. The move does not reflect a judgement that Meng is either guilty or innocent, the government said.

The case has stoked tensions among the US, Canada and China since Meng was arrested in December during a layover at Vancouver’s international airport.

The Canadian government’s decision to move forward with the extradition process injects new drama into the US-China trade talks at a time when the Trump administration is trying to wrap up negotiations on a deal.

“We are disappointed that the Minister of Justice has decided to issue an Authority to Proceed in the face of the political nature of the US charges and where the President of the United States has repeatedly stated that he would interfere in Ms. Meng’s case if he thought it would assist the US negotiations with China over a trade deal,” David Martin, who leads Meng’s defence team, said in a statement.

Martin was referring to US President Donald Trump’s February 22 suggestion that the Huawei charges could become a bargaining chip in the US-China negotiations, sparking fears among national security hawks in Congress that he could set aside cybersecurity threats to advance his trade agenda.

Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, tried to walk back Trump’s comments a day later, though the president’s ultimate strategy remains unclear.

The South China Morning Post reported last month that a senior adviser to the Chinese Communist Party predicted that the Huawei charges would become part of the trade talks and that Meng would be released in the coming months.

Martin also contends that the extradition proceedings the Canadian government authorised are rooted in part in charges that would not be considered criminal in Canada – which would violate the country’s extradition agreement with the US.

“Our client maintains that she is innocent of any wrongdoing and that the US prosecution and extradition constitutes an abuse of the processes of law,” he said.

Meng is due back in court on March 6. Justice William Ehrcke of the Supreme Court of British Columbia previously released her on US$7.5 million bail and required that she remain in Vancouver, where she owns two multimillion-dollar homes, while her case wends its way through Canadian courts.

In late January, the US Justice Department charged Meng and Huawei with deceiving international banks about a Huawei subsidiary’s operations in Iran in violation of US sanctions, along with related financial crimes.

Huawei itself was also charged with wire fraud and stealing intellectual property from US wireless provider T-Mobile starting in 2012; the company pleaded not guilty to those crimes in a federal court in Seattle on Thursday.

The Meng case has put Canadian officials in a precarious spot, given that China is an increasingly important trading partner.

As the legal situation has unfolded, the Canadian government has tried to keep a neutral stance.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired the country’s ambassador to China in January for repeatedly commenting on the case in public, including suggesting that Meng has a strong argument against extradition.

Meanwhile, China has been ratcheting up political pressure on Canada. Multiple Canadian citizens have been detained in China since Meng’s arrest, and senior government officials have demanded the CFO’s immediate release.

Ren, Huawei’s founder, told CBS News in a rare interview on February 20 that his daughter’s arrest was “politically motivated.”

At a press briefing in Beijing on Friday, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman hit out at the Trudeau government’s credibility, noting that the prime minister faces political peril within Canada over reports his administration pressured government lawyers to drop corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin, a construction company headquartered in his hometown.

Some have used the case to question the country’s judicial independence and whether the law is evenly applied to foreign and domestic companies.

“I believe fair-minded people can tell right from wrong,” spokesman Lu Kang said. “In fact, it is not only the Chinese and Canadian people, but also people from all around the world that are very interested to see what the Canadian government is going to say about this.”

Huawei is the world’s largest producer of telecommunications equipment and the second-largest maker of smartphones – but US officials have grown increasingly concerned that its technology could be used to spy for the Chinese government.

The US has been urging its allies to restrict their use of Huawei technology, especially when building out next-generation 5G networks.

Already, countries as varied as Japan, Australia and the UK have expressed doubts about the company. In January, Poland arrested a Huawei sales director on espionage charges.