This PowerPoint presentation proves Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou is guilty, says US. Preposterous, says her lawyer
- The presentation, given by Sabrina Meng Wanzhou to a HSBC banker in 2013, describes the links between Huawei and Skycom, a ‘partner’ doing business in Iran
- But the US says Skycom was actually an unofficial subsidiary, helping Huawei evade US and EU sanctions on Iran
In August 2013, Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou faced a HSBC banker and did something countless other executives have done before – she gave a PowerPoint presentation.
But according to the United States, the presentation was far from ordinary: it was fraud, designed to help Huawei evade US and EU sanctions against Iran, in a deception involving hundreds of millions of dollars. It lies at the heart of the US case against Meng, and her arrest in Vancouver on December 1.
Her detention has sparked fury in Beijing, which summoned the US and Canadian ambassadors and has warned of “grave consequences” unless Meng is released. Two Canadian citizens have since been detained by China, in possible retaliation for Meng’s arrest, although Beijing says they are suspected of national security breaches.
The contents of Meng’s 17-slide PowerPoint presentation, and the US version of events surrounding it, have been revealed in exhibits to the British Columbia Supreme Court, where a Canadian judge last week granted Meng’s release on bail of C$10 million (US$7.5 million) pending a hearing on extradition to the US.
Both US prosecutors and Meng’s lawyers agree that the presentation, initially delivered with the help of an English translator, was intended to allay concerns at HSBC that Huawei may have been breaching US sanctions by doing business in Iran, thereby leading HSBC to do the same.
The bank was understandably nervous about running afoul of US prosecutors – in 2012, it had agreed to pay a US$1.9 billion fine to avoid a federal indictment for money laundering.
However, the US says the PowerPoint show was effectively a first-person con by Meng, filled with “numerous untrue or misleading representations”. That is hotly denied by her lawyers.
“The suggestion that this 2013 PowerPoint induced [HSBC] to continue to provide financial services is preposterous,” said David J. Martin, Meng’s lawyer at the bail hearing, on December 7.
“Quite apart from whether or not such a document could induce [HSBC] … there is obviously concern about Ms Meng’s mens rea [intent of wrongdoing]: this is a document that is produced by a large department of the Huawei company.”
‘The crux of the alleged misrepresentation’
The PowerPoint presentation centred on Meng and Huawei’s relationship with Skycom Tech Co, a Hong Kong firm that worked with Huawei in Iran.
“Unbeknownst to the banks, they were inadvertently conducting business with Skycom in contravention of the sanctions,” John Gibb-Carsley, a Canadian government lawyer acting on behalf of the US, said at Meng’s bail hearing.
When banks became concerned about the relationship between Huawei and Skycom – because of a Reuters article linking Meng to the smaller firm – Meng attempted “damage control”, said Gibb-Carsley, and “personally represented [to banks] that Huawei and Skycom were separate”.
“In fact, they were not separate,” he told the bail hearing. “Skycom was Huawei … This is the crux of the alleged misrepresentation.”
The presentation was conducted by Meng in Chinese with the use of an English interpreter “to be precise with her language”, according to the US request for Meng’s arrest, which was presented at Meng’s bail hearing as part of a sworn affidavit by Constable Winston Yap of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
An English-language translation of the presentation was subsequently sought by HSBC, and Meng arranged for it to be hand-delivered to the bank on September 3, 2013, the US request said.
Huawei provided the BC Supreme Court what it said was that English version of the presentation, which it said was prepared by the company’s legal affairs department.
The presentation said: “Huawei operates in Iran in strict compliance with applicable laws, regulations and sanctions of UN, US and EU. Huawei’s engagement with Skycom is normal business cooperation.”
Outlining the scope of sanctions against Iran, the document went on to describe Skycom as a “business partner” that “works with Huawei in sales and services in Iran”.
“Huawei was once a shareholder of Skycom, and I was once a member of Skycom’s Board of Directors,” Meng said at the meeting, according to the PowerPoint’s script. This was to “better manage our partner and help Skycom to better comply with relevant managerial requirements.”
However, such strategies were no longer necessary because “Huawei will do business in Iran through its local subsidiary,” the presentation said.
“Considering this, Huawei has sold all its shares in Skycom, and I also quit my position on the Skycom Board.”
But the US request for Meng’s arrest said, “Skycom operated as Huawei’s Iran-based affiliate in order to continue to obtain banking services,” and Meng and other Huawei representatives “repeatedly lied about the nature” of the relationship.
This, the US said, was done to allow Huawei to move money out of Iran and other sanctioned countries via various banks, including “Financial Institution 1” – subsequently identified by Meng’s legal team as HSBC. These transfers involved hundreds of millions of US dollars, the US request said.
While Meng’s presentation described the relationship between Huawei and Skycom as “cooperation”, the US arrest request said: “Huawei did not ‘cooperate’ with Skycom; Skycom was entirely controlled by Huawei”.
“Not only did Meng give this presentation herself, but both the written presentation and her oral statements to the executive of Financial Institution 1 refer to Meng in the first person, using the word ‘I’, indicating Meng’s personal knowledge of the facts surrounding her statements.”
HSBC then relied in part on Meng’s representations to continue acting as Huawei’s banker, the request said.
Minutes of a HSBC risk committee meeting, cited in the US request, stated that “Huawei advised [that] its shareholding in Skycom was sold in 2009 and that Cathy Meng [sic] resigned her position on the board of Skycom in April 2009 … [the] committee agreed to RETAIN the relationship with Huawei …”
Others in HSBC may have been unconvinced, according to the US account.
On April 15, 2015, the bank’s reputational risk committee met in New York to decide whether to begin banking for Huawei’s US subsidiary; Meng’s statement about the sale of Huawei was cited, but the committee decided not to act as banker for the subsidiary.
Arrested, with ‘urgency’
The provisional arrest request, which was given to Canada on November 30, went on to claim a “basis for urgency” in apprehending Meng.
It said that just one day earlier, on November 29, the US had found out she would be travelling from Hong Kong to Canada, on her way to Mexico, using her Hong Kong passport.
“US authorities believe, based on the totality of circumstances, that unless Meng is provisionally arrested in Canada on Saturday, December 1, 2018, while in transit, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to secure her presence in the United States for prosecution,” it said.
Included with the request were two photos of Meng to aid Canadian police in her identification.
The request was duly endorsed by Constable Yap, of the RCMP’s Foreign and Domestic Liaison Unit, who formally requested her arrest.
And at around 11.30am the next day, Meng touched down in Vancouver on Cathay Pacific Flight CX838.
She thought it would be a 12-hour stopover.
But instead she remains ensconced in a C$5.6 million (US$4.2 million) house she and her husband own on Vancouver’s 28th Avenue, under the 24-hour watch of private security guards and wearing a GPS tracker on her ankle.
Her next court appearance is scheduled for February 6, to set a date for her extradition hearing. It will be likely be months before she leaves Canada.
As for Skycom, it was dissolved last year, according to filings cited by Bloomberg.