British Columbia

Huawei sues U.S. over 'stonewalling' on Meng Wanzhou documents

Huawei is suing multiple U.S. government agencies to try to force the release of documents the company believes could reveal political motivations behind the arrest of its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

U.S. lawsuit claims multiple U.S. agencies ignored requests for information related to criminal case

U.S. President Donald Trump and Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, both pictured in file photos from 2020. Huawei is suing the Trump administration for 'stonewalling' requests for information related to Meng's extradition. (Leah Mills/Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

Huawei is suing multiple U.S. government agencies to try to force the release of documents the company believes could reveal political motivations behind the arrest of its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

In a complaint filed last week in federal district court in Washington, D.C., the telecommunications giant accuses the Trump administration of "stonewalling" numerous freedom of information requests to 16 agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce.

Huawei's lawyers say there are "signs" the U.S. wants to use criminal charges against the company and Meng "to advance policy objectives unrelated to the evenhanded administration of criminal justice."

In addition to inter-agency documents, the lawsuit also seeks communications between the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and "certain Canadian authorities that participated in the investigation or arrest of Ms. Meng."

"These communications are primarily aimed at identifying communications that could indicate improper bases for the prosecution of [Huawei] and Ms. Meng," the lawsuit reads.

The complaint goes on to list what Huawei claims are the reasons for Meng's extradition, including interfering with Huawei's "dominance" in the 5G wireless market and strengthening the U.S. position in trade negotiations with China.

U.S. lawsuit aligns with Canadian legal battle

Meng was arrested on Dec. 1, 2018, after flying into Vancouver's airport on what was supposed to be a stopover on her way to Mexico City, with an ultimate destination of Argentina.

Meng is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

Both she and Huawei are charged with fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about the company's control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Meng was in B.C. Supreme Court last week to watch testimony from the RCMP and CBSA officers involved in her arrest. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

HSBC had allegedly become concerned about the relationship after a series of Reuters articles detailing problems.

Prosecutors say HSBC continued financing Huawei because of lies Meng allegedly told one of the bank's executives in a PowerPoint presentation in 2013. As a result, HSBC was allegedly placed at risk of loss and prosecution.

The U.S. lawsuit aligns with efforts by Meng's Canadian defence team to have the extradition case tossed because of politicization and alleged violations of the 48-year-old's rights in the time leading up to her arrest.

Meng's lawyers have cited comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting he would be willing to use her as a bargaining chip in a trade war with China.

They have also accused Canadian authorities of conspiring to assist the FBI in its investigation by having Canada Border Services Agency officers use their extraordinary powers to question Meng for three hours without a lawyer before the RCMP arrested her.

Police and border services officers will continue testimony in B.C. Supreme Court later this month about the details of Meng's customs examination and the seizure of her phones.

Last week, a CBSA officer admitted to passing the code that unlocks both of Meng's phones to the RCMP by "mistake."

Her lawyers have also accused the RCMP of giving detailed technical information from Meng's electronic devices to the FBI.

'Questions about the government's integrity'

The U.S. lawsuit claims Huawei made 12 requests more than a year ago under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, but has received almost nothing back, despite an "express requirement that agencies generally must act within 20 business days."

In addition to communications about Meng's arrest between Canada and the U.S. agencies, the company is also asking for communications about the indictment between the U.S. agencies and the White House.

The lawsuit cites the global coverage of the B.C. court proceedings as justification for an expedited need for the documents in question "on the ground that they involved matters of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government's integrity which affect public confidence."

A still from a video shows Meng during her first few hours in CBSA custody. She was questioned without a lawyer at that time. (B.C. Supreme Court)

While it covers much of the same ground, the U.S. lawsuit is a separate matter to the extradition proceedings currently underway in B.C. Supreme Court.

Huawei's U.S. lawyers are fighting the U.S. criminal charges against her and the company in New York. The U.S is arguing in B.C. that Meng should be sent to New York to stand trial. 

Meng's Canadian lawyers will have a chance in February to argue the alleged violations of her rights can only be remedied by staying the extradition proceedings.

The CBSA and RCMP officers who have testified so far have denied any complicity and any improper information sharing with the FBI.

The U.S. agencies named in the lawsuit have not yet filed any responses to it.

Meng is currently living under a form of house arrest after being released on bail of $10 million. She wears a monitoring bracelet on her ankle as part of her bail conditions and is watched by private security guards around the clock.

Meng has denied the allegations against her.

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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