Seeking bail, Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou offers to pay for her own guards
- Meng, held in prison since her December 1 arrest, faces extradition to the US on fraud charges concerning the breach of sanctions against sales to Iran
- The hearing adjourned on Monday without a decision
The Canadian bail proceedings for Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou resumed in British Columbia's Supreme Court on Monday, with her defence team proposing the use of a private security detail to prevent her from fleeing, pending an extradition hearing.
The US seeks her extradition to face multiple fraud charges relating to alleged breaches of US and EU sanctions against Iran, each carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years.
Meng would pay for private security guards to monitor her 24 hours a day and seize her if she tried to escape, her defence told the judge in the bail hearing, which was adjourned on Monday without a decision.
Meng owns two homes in Vancouver with her husband Liu Xiaozong, once lived in Vancouver herself and has been a regular traveller to the city, her lawyer, David Martin, told Justice William Ehrcke.
Representing the attorney general of Canada, on behalf of the United States, John Gibb-Carsley has argued that Meng has access to vast resources and poses an unacceptable flight risk.
She is being held at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, in nearby Maple Ridge.
The daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, Meng, 46, was arrested at Washington's request at Vancouver International Airport on December 1 as she changed planes on a flight from Hong Kong to Mexico.
Her bail hearing began last week, and drew a packed house of reporters from news outlets around the world on Friday, but was continued to Monday.
The case has infuriated Beijing, which summoned the ambassadors of the United States and Canada this weekend to demand Meng's immediate release. The arrest has also roiled world financial markets.
On Monday, hundreds of reporters and members of the public lined up outside the high-capacity, high-security Courtroom 20.
The 149-seat public gallery was swiftly filled to capacity, with the overflow of reporters and public watching video monitors set up outside.
Meng’s husband, Liu Xiaozong, was seated in the public gallery chatting with Huawei lawyer Sarah Leamon and the tech firm’s senior vice-president, Scott Bradley.
Outside court, businessman Joe Luo was handing out “we love Huawei” posters to fellow Meng supporters.
“Free Meng now!” he shouted. Luo denounced attempts to deny Meng bail as an “insult to a great company”, and called her arrest “a dirty business”.
Meng entered the courtroom in the same green prison tracksuit she wore at Friday’s hearing. She laughed with Martin before the judge entered the room.
One man in the public gallery repeatedly dashed out of the room as his phone rang – the ringtone was the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers”, drawing chuckles.
As the hearing resumed, Martin argued for Meng’s release on bail, to be supervised by privately hired security firm Lions Gate, telling Mr Justice Ehrcke that Meng consented to guards taking her into physical custody “in the event of an attempted breach” of her bail.
Meng would pay for any private security supervision, should she be freed on bail, Martin added.
In its extradition request, dated December 3, the US government warned that “were Meng to be released, she would likely flee to China, from which the United States would not be able to obtain her extradition”.
Because of her father’s approximate net worth of US$3.2 billion, “there is no question that Meng has the resources to flee from prosecution and to remain a fugitive indefinitely,” the request said.
“Meng is also a risk of flight because she has access to numerous passport and visa documents, which could allow her to flee with greater ease,” according to the US government document.
“In the past eleven years, Meng has been issued no fewer than seven different passports from both China and Hong Kong,” it said.
Scot Filer, the CEO of Lions Gate Risk Management, was called as a witness by Meng’s team. The 30-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that Lions Gate’s guards included former military and law enforcement staff.
The firm was approached by Meng’s representatives on Friday, and wrote a presentation on how it might supervise Meng.
Filer said he had visited Meng’s home at West 28th Avenue in Vancouver and it posed “no impediment” to her restraint.
He said a driver and a team of guards could control Meng’s movements while allowing her “to conduct her daily life”.
Should Meng attempt to escape, guards would conduct a citizen’s arrest, Filer said, adding that his staff would have eyes on Meng at all times except within the “controlled environment” of her house.
Meng’s movements would be restricted to Vancouver, with boundaries defined by a map provided to the court, Filer said.
Under questioning from Gibb-Carsley, though, Filer conceded that his firm had never guarded a person on bail, and that risk management is not “risk elimination”.
Witness Stephen Tan, co-founder of electronic monitoring firm Recovery Science, has also been asked to help monitor Meng, if she is granted bail.
GPS tracking bracelets were used to track the firm’s subjects; the company has monitored more than 500 people on bail, Tan told Meng’s lawyers. Of those, fewer than 50 had tried to flee the areas to which they were restricted or removed their trackers, and just one had not been recaptured.
He agreed with Gibb-Carsley that the GPS bracelet could be removed with “ordinary scissors”, and that there was potentially a one-minute lag between a bracelet being removed or destroyed and an alert being generated.
In his closing statement, Martin said that “even without this technology … Ms Meng would comply” with any bail restrictions “on the basis of her character and dignity”.
He said that Meng would “vigorously contest” the US charges, and that it was “inconceivable” she would flee.
“What motive could she possibly have?” he asked.
As the face of Huawei, a firm that was “a Chinese national champion”, any attempt to escape would “embarrass the Chinese nation itself”, said Martin.
Mr Justice Ehrcke asked Martin the immigration status of Meng’s husband, whom he confirmed to be Liu. Martin said he did not know.
“Is it appropriate to name as surety someone who is not ordinarily a resident of Canada?” the judge asked.
After the hearing’s lunch break, Martin clarified that Liu had entered Canada on a multi-entry visitor’s visa, apparently confirming that he no longer had permanent residency in Canada.
He arrived in Canada last week, and was only entitled to stay in Canada for six months. Ehrcke again questioned whether it was appropriate for Liu to act as surety for Meng, considering that “it could be a year or more” that she was on bail, pending the results of an extradition hearing.
Martin proposed that Liu could obtain a “guardian visa”, if the couple’s 10-year-old daughter was brought to Vancouver to attend school.
Ehrcke cited a bail surety form, which said an applicant must be a “resident of British Columbia”.
“I don’t understand how you can apply that to Mr Liu,” the judge told Martin.
In closing, Gibb-Carsley took issue with Martin’s assessment that the US case against Meng was weak. But he said these were matters for a trial, not a bail or extradition hearing.
And Meng’s connections to Vancouver and Canada were weak, Gibb-Carsley said. Meng had provided character witnesses, but none were from Vancouver or Canada.
Photographs provided to the court, showing Meng and her family in Vancouver, had been described by Martin on Friday as “typical tourist pictures”, said Gibb-Carsley. “He corrected himself but that (description) tells the story.”
He also suggested there was a risk that electronic monitoring of Meng on bail could be thwarted by Huawei, calling it the “world’s largest telecommunications firm”.
Gibb-Carsley said that were Meng to be given bail, he would seek to change the makeup of the financial surety.
Meng’s team has offered C$14 million in equity in two Vancouver houses, plus C$1million in cash. but Gibb-Carsley said he would request bail of C$7.5 million in cash and the same amount in home equity.
He also said that any bail conditions should restrict Meng to 24-hour house arrest, not simply to geographical boundaries within Vancouver.
Additional reporting by Robert Delaney