British Columbia·In Depth

'Intimidating and corrosive': Huawei CFO accuses Trump of 'political abuse'

Lawyers for Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, signalled their intention Wednesday to seek a stay of proceedings based on "political abuse" by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The leadup to Meng Wanzhou's extradition hearing appears likely to stretch well into 2020

Meng Wanzhou leaves her home in Vancouver on her way to an appearance in British Columbia Supreme Court. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Lawyers for Meng Wanzhou signalled their intention Wednesday to end extradition proceedings against the Huawei chief financial officer before a bid to have her removed to the United States ever gets to a hearing.

Defence lawyer Scott Fenton told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes Meng's legal team will apply for a stay of proceedings based on claims of political interference and unlawful detention.

He accused U.S. President Donald Trump of "political abuse" in relation to statements Trump made after Meng's arrest last December in which he suggested he'd be willing to intervene in the case if it could secure a trade deal with China.

"It's our submission that those statements directly in relation to Ms. Meng's case are intimidating and corrosive of the law," Fenton said.

"They should disentitle the requesting state from being able to seek the extradition of Ms. Meng."

'The clearest cases of abuse'

The United States wants Meng extradited to New York to stand trial on charges she committed fraud by lying to banks about the nature of Huawei's relationship with SkyCom, an alleged Huawei subsidiary in Iran.

American prosecutors claim that by misleading banks about the fact SkyCom was a front for Huawei, Meng induced financial institutions into breaking U.S. sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Meng Wanzhou listens as a translator repeats back her lawyer's claims that she is a victim of abuse of process during an appearance at B.C. Supreme Court. (Jane Wolsak)

Wednesday's court date was the first time Meng has made a public appearance at the downtown courthouse in two months.

In contrast to earlier proceedings that have seen her wear a prison-issued tracksuit or Lululemon yoga gear, she walked into the room in a black blazer and patterned dress, carrying a gold-embroidered Chanel bag.

A bulky black monitoring bracelet was fastened to her ankle, just above the strap of a medium-heeled sandal.

Meng listened intently as a Chinese translator repeated back Fenton's claim that her rights were violated.

The lawyer accused the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, in co-ordination with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, of engaging in a pattern of violations of rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We argue that that conduct constitutes one of the clearest cases of abuse in the jurisprudence," Fenton told Holmes.

'A complete red herring'

Meng's legal team also told the judge it believed the case fails to meet the most basic of requirements needed to commit someone for extradition — that a crime in the requesting state also be considered a crime in Canada.

That's because while fraud may be considered a crime in both countries, no one would be prosecuted for violating U.S. sanctions north of the border.

Meng Wanzhou's lawyers claim that the Canada Border Services Agency worked with the RCMP and FBI to unlawfully detain her at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said Wednesday's hearing wasn't the time to get into the weeds of the arguments but called the defence claim "a complete red herring."

"This case is about an alleged misrepresentation to a bank that relied upon and in so relying (upon Meng's assurances) put their economic interest at risk," he said.

The day was marked by a few testy exchanges between the prosecution and a gold-plated defence team that includes some of Vancouver's most renowned lawyers.

At one point, Gibb-Carsley claimed Meng's ability to hire four top-notch defenders threatened to hold the court's schedule "hostage" to her demands — a point lawyer Richard Peck flatly refuted.

For his part, Peck claimed his team has been making every effort to secure disclosure from the Crown needed to make an argument that Meng's rights were trampled at the airport when she was detained without reason for three hours before being officially arrested.

The defence claims that the CBSA seized her electronic devices, got her to give her passwords and searched her private files in that time.

Peck said documents obtained through the CBSA are "disorganized and incomplete" and rife with redactions and missing pages. 

Moving house

Holmes set Sept. 23 as a date to hear an application for greater disclosure from the Crown. The other arguments won't be heard until at least January.

A lineup for around 120 seats in the public gallery started building as soon as the courthouse opened.

Every seat was eventually taken, but sheriffs allowed more than a dozen onlookers to crowd the aisles and the front of the courtroom for a peek at Meng.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has allowed Meng Wanzhou to vary her bail so she can move to this $15 million mansion in Shaughnessy. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Holmes also signed an order allowing Meng to vary her bail by moving from her two-storey house on Vancouver's West Side to a $15 million mansion about 15 minutes east.

One of Meng's lawyers said the gated compound will be easier to guard, noting that the home where she is currently required to be from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. has become a bit of a tourist attraction, where curious passersby occasionally approach doors guarded by a round-the-clock security team.

'Simply untrue'

After the court hearing, a Huawei spokesman read a statement on the courthouse steps as reporters and onlookers vied to listen.

"First, the criminal case against Ms. Meng is based on allegations that are simply untrue," Benjamin Howes told the crowd.

"Furthermore, it was stated that political factors at play during the extradition process may lead to a serious violation of justice. Ms. Meng's legitimate rights may also be harmed. Thus, Ms. Meng intends to apply to this court for a stay of the extradition proceedings."

Howes promised that the company would share "information regarding the financial institutions involved" in the coming days. But he refused to take any questions.

And then a heated argument broke out between Chinese-Canadian protesters, as it became clear the day's activities were coming to a close.

One man said he felt Canada should work to keep good relations with China but thought everyone should respect freedom of speech.

A man behind him kept a middle finger in the air behind his head the entire time he spoke.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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