Meng Wanzhou loses bid to loosen bail restrictions
Huawei executive claimed security guards were putting her at risk of catching COVID-19
A B.C. judge has rejected a bid by Meng Wanzhou to loosen the terms of her bail while she awaits a ruling on extradition to the United States.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke said he remains convinced that the bail conditions he imposed in the week after the Huawei executive's arrest in December 2018 remain the minimum needed to ensure she does not flee the country before the conclusion of her Canadian legal proceedings.
In a hearing that shone a light on Meng's extravagant life under a loose form of house arrest, the 48-year-old's lawyers argued earlier this month that she was at risk of catching COVID-19 from the changing roster of security guards assigned to prevent her escaping the country.
Wanted for sanctions-related fraud, conspiracy
Meng's legal team claimed she has proven herself trustworthy enough during the two years she has spent on bail to be allowed to move around B.C.'s Lower Mainland during daylight hours without the three guards who accompany her everywhere at present.
But Ehrcke said nothing has changed in Meng's circumstances since she was first released on $10 million bail that would convince him that a loosening of restrictions is warranted.
And he said Meng has the ability to self-isolate at home if she is worried about catching COVID-19. The only appointments she must attend are her court appearances, and the judge said he's satisfied that making the short drive between her mansion in Vancouver's West Side and the courthouse with three guards in her vehicle does not present a threat.
The Crown fought the application, claiming Meng — the daughter of Huawei's billionaire founder — has immense resources, few ties to Canada and reason to flee rather than wait to see if she will be rendered to the United States and the possibility of a lengthy jail sentence.
Ehrcke said nothing about that situation has changed in the past two years.
Meng was released on bail a little more than a week after she was arrested at Vancouver's airport on an extradition warrant to the United States.
Meng, who is Huawei's chief financial officer, faces fraud and conspiracy charges in New York, in relation to allegations that she lied to an HSBC executive in Hong Kong about her company's control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim that HSBC relied on Meng's alleged lies to continue handling financial transactions for the Chinese telecommunications giant, risking loss and prosecution for breaching the same set of sanctions.
Meng was released on a bail deal that saw her put up $7 million, while a number of sureties posted another $3 million. She was also forced to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet on her ankle and to pay for a team of security guards to trail her around the clock.
Shopping trips, photo shoots, bullets
The president of Lions Gate Risk Management, the firm tasked with guarding Meng, testified at the hearing that he believes Meng is still at considerable risk of being removed from Canada by either a foreign government or a criminal organization.
Doug Maynard said Vancouver police had already investigated a series of threatening letters sent to Meng's home, some of which contained bullets.
He said Meng, who claims to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of past health scares, has continued to go on lavish shopping trips and to mix her household and business bubbles despite her professed concern about getting sick.
The bail hearing also heard testimony from Meng's husband, who admitted that he and the couple's children spent their quarantine periods in Meng's company when they travelled from China after receiving special exemptions to come to Canada.
The Crown raised pictures taken at a private photo shoot witnessed by the CBC last May during which Meng was spotted with more than a dozen friends on the steps of the downtown courthouse. No one was wearing a mask, and no one was maintaining physical distance.
Complicating matters for the defence, Lions Gate Risk Management's chief executive officer said he would no longer be willing to act as one of the sureties for Meng's bail if Ehrcke agrees to let her move around without his guards during the daytime.
Ehrcke said he thought it was significant that the security company would not vouch for Meng unless she was under constant supervision.
Extradition proceedings about to begin
Hearings related to the extradition request are scheduled to begin in the first week of March, when Meng's lawyers will argue that the case should be tossed because former U.S. president Donald Trump allegedly planned to use Meng as a pawn in a trade war with China.
In the coming weeks, Meng's lawyers will also argue that police and Canada Border Services Agency officers conspired with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to violate her rights at the time of her arrest.
The defence team also claims that the U.S. misled Canada about the strength of its case and is acting beyond its jurisdiction by prosecuting a Chinese citizen for actions that took place outside the United States.
Meng has denied the allegations against her. The Crown claims the record of the case is strong enough to warrant committing her to the U.S. for trial.
The details of Meng's life on bail drew a stark contrast with the desperate situations of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians who were detained by Chinese authorities within days of Meng's arrest.
Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, have been accused of spying, although no evidence has been provided. They have been held in harsh prison conditions for more than two years, and have been given only sporadic access to Canadian consular officials.
WATCH | Calls for Ottawa to toughen stance over detention of Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor:
Most observers believe the two men were detained in retaliation for Meng's arrest. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he recently spoke about their plight with U.S. President Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported last December that Meng is in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice for a deal that could bring an end to the case altogether.
According to those reports, which the CBC has not independently verified, a possible resolution would see Meng admit to some wrongdoing in exchange for deferring prosecution or dropping the charges.
The subject of those negotiations has not come up in court.