British Columbia·In Depth

Meng Wanzhou is out on bail — but could be in legal limbo for years

A Vancouver judge presiding over what he called an "unusual case" has released Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou after guarantors put up millions for bail and she agreed to pay for 24/7 monitoring. But the telecom titan, whose case has drawn attention around the world, could have a long road ahead as the extradition fight begins.

B.C. judge believes security plan and $10 million bail will reduce flight risk to 'acceptable level'

Meng Wanzhou left B.C. Supreme Court in downtown Vancouver around 8 p.m. local time, nearly five hours after the judge delivered his decision. (CBC)

Meng Wanzhou says she hasn't read a novel in 25 years.

As the lawyer for Huawei's chief financial officer told B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke Tuesday, the 46-year-old has been too busy raising a family and helping her father grow his company into a global telecommunications giant.

Defence lawyer David Martin said his client practically welcomes the constraints Ehrcke considered before granting her $10 million bail under strict supervision: more time to spend with her daughter, to catch up on her love of literature — and who knows, maybe even to consider getting her PhD?

Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver at the request of U.S. officials, is accused of violating international sanctions against Iran through a "hidden" Huawei subsidiary called Skycom.

Listen here to the Front Burner podcast on how the Huawei arrest is playing out in China:

"The tone here is that this is an an innocent woman. So why would you treat her like a criminal? And the idea is, if you have handcuffed someone you have presumed their guilt," says Nathan VanderKlippe, the Globe and Mail's Asia correspondent. Tensions between Canada and China are high after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and the subsequent detention of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig. Today on Front Burner, Nathan explains China's side of the diplomatic dispute and breaks down how this story is playing out in Beijing. 21:28

U.S. prosecutors claim she put American banks in legal jeopardy by lying about the relationship between the companies, inducing them into "carrying out transactions that they otherwise would not have contemplated."

The U.S. wants to see her extradited.

Huawei official Meng Wanzhou, arrested on a U.S. warrant, was released on $10 million bail 0:51

But if the legal precedents Ehrcke considered in granting Meng her freedom are anything to go by, she may have time to finish War and Peace, Anna Karenina and the complete works of Marcel Proust before her extradition odyssey is done.

"This has been an unusual case," the judge said as he wrapped up the day, which drew crowds so large the sheriff had to set up televisions in the lobby. 

The proceedings spoke to a number of Vancouver stereotypes: a part-time yoga instructor, a real estate agent, an insurance salesperson and a homemaker all came together as last minute sureties to guarantee the freedom of a woman whose father has an estimated worth of $3.2 billion US.

And all of this on a day with torrential rain.

Left holding the bag

In considering bail, Ehrcke had to balance Meng's risk of flight against the guarantees of friends who put their own property on the line as sureties.

He considered the examples of Rakesh Saxena and Lai Changxing, two men who fought long battles against extradition.

It took 13 years before Saxena was deported to Thailand, where he was jailed for fraud.

And Lai — once considered one of China's most wanted men — fought deportation for more than a decade before being sent back to face charges of bribery and theft.

Both men lived under house arrest and were eventually freed pending the resolution of their cases. Saxena was placed under house arrest again after violating the conditions of his release.

Lai Changxing fought deportation from Canada for years. His case was one of the examples the judge considered in granting bail to Meng. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Ehrcke also considered the case of Michael Wilson, an accused fraudster, who — like Meng — was wanted for extradition to the U.S. and who — also like Meng — had multiple sureties step forward.

But Wilson fled to Vietnam with two of those guarantors in a bid to escape justice, leaving the other two holding the bag.

Wilson's actions cost one of them $200,000. The friends who stepped forward for the Huawei CFO could be on the hook for as much as $3 million if she flees.

'Myriad' reasons to avoid the U.S.

Meng was arrested just over a week ago on a provisional arrest warrant as she passed through Vancouver International Airport en route to Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina and France.

Prosecutors claim the fact she hasn't stepped foot in the United States since 2017 is proof she's avoiding possible arrest in that country.

But Ehrcke rejected that argument, pointing out that people have "myriad" reasons for avoiding the United States in the past two years.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Tensions between the two countries have been rising. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

The judge didn't mention Donald Trump's name — but the tense relationship between the U.S. president and China's leadership has simmered in the background from the moment Meng first stepped foot in court.

"There's a larger macro struggle going on between the United States and China," Martin told the court during his client's first appearance — proceedings to which the CBC News has since listened.

Many of the people who packed the courtroom for three days running questioned the timing and motive of the arrest. They applauded Ehrcke's final decision and some congratulated Meng's husband as he left the courtroom.

Supporters decried the allegations and one man walked outside the courthouse and shouted, "We love Huawei."

Patience and time

The arrest of a Canadian in China on the same day that Meng's release was to be decided increased the air of intrigue.

And Trump's assertion that he might intervene in the case against Meng if it would help national security interests or close a trade deal with China only helped reinforce the sense that the case may ultimately be decided in Washington and Beijing, not Vancouver.

For now, though, Meng is confined to a strict radius of locations in Vancouver, Richmond and parts of North and West Vancouver.

She'll pay for round-the-clock shifts of security guards to watch her every movement — sworn to arrest her if she breaches her bail conditions.

She'll swap her green prison sweats for an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.

And she'll finally get to pick up a book. To paraphrase War and Peace, she may learn that patience and time are the strongest warriors of all.

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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