British Columbia

Crown claims HSBC documents fail to undermine claim Meng Wanzhou lied to bank

A lawyer for Canada's attorney general said Wednesday that supposedly explosive documents from HSBC prove only that senior people at the bank should have known key facts undercutting U.S. allegations against Meng Wanzhou — not that they actually did.

Huawei executive's lawyers say HSBC documents show U.S. narrative of case is false

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is fighting extradition to the United States. She claims that HSBC's own documents undermine allegations of fraud against her. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A lawyer for Canada's attorney general told the judge overseeing extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou Wednesday that supposedly explosive documents from HSBC prove only that senior people at the bank should have known key facts undercutting U.S. allegations against the Huawei executive — not that they actually did.

Robert Frater urged Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes not to include the documents as part of the evidence she will consider when she makes a final call later this summer on a request to render Meng to the United States.

Meng's lawyers claim HSBC's own emails and reports show senior executives were "in the know" about Huawei's control of two subsidiaries implicated in allegations of sanctions violations despite prosecution claims Meng had assured them the telecommunications giant was doing nothing wrong.

In a pithy response, Frater — who is the Department of Justice's top lawyer — said the records show the key manager responsible for reporting to a global risk committee didn't pass any information of that kind along.

"She did not know. The very most [Meng's lawyers] can say ... would be to say that had she looked closely at documents, some dating back a couple of years, she could have known. She could have put it together like a desk from IKEA," Frater said.

"Whether she connected all the dots, we cannot know without asking her. Indeed, that could only happen in a trial."

Accused of lying to bank

Meng is Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant.

The U.S. wants her extradited to New York, where she faces charges of conspiracy and fraud related to allegations that she lied to HSBC after a series of news articles threw her company's relationship with the bank into jeopardy.

Meng Wanzhou defence lawyers David Martin and Mark Sandler leave B.C. Supreme Court during a break in extradition proceedings. Meng's lawyers say the U.S. omitted key facts about the allegations against her. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Reuters articles claimed Huawei controlled Skycom, a firm accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, and that Huawei has financed the purchase of Skycom by a holding company called Canicula.

The U.S. claims Meng gave an HSBC executive a PowerPoint presentation at a meeting in Hong Kong which left the impression that Skycom was just a local Huawei business partner — not a subsidiary.

Prosecutors claim HSBC relied on Meng's word in deciding to continue handling Huawei's financial transactions, placing the bank at risk of reputational loss and prosecution for violating the same sanctions as its customer.

Holmes will hold the final three weeks of the extradition hearing in August, but first she must decide whether to allow Meng's lawyers to rely on the HSBC documents as they attempt to prove the U.S. omitted key facts from the record of the case provided to Canada to justify extradition.

Frater told Holmes the question she has to consider is whether the documents are capable of proving that elements of a U.S. summary of the case filed with the court are "manifestly unreliable."

He cited the judge's own words from a previous decision in which she denied another defence application concerning evidence intended to show "that many HSBC employees, including the global relationship manager, in fact, knew that Huawei controlled both Skycom and Canicula."

In that decision, Holmes said the defence couldn't introduce evidence that would offer an alternative narrative, or "invite competing inferences and credibility findings."

In the current application, Meng's lawyers said they weren't trying to do any of those things, but to demonstrate instead that HSBC's own records show that the bank grouped Skycom and Canicula's accounts with Huawei's and that senior executives were aware of the links between the companies.

'You will search in vain'

Frater conceded that the executives should have known. But did they?

"You will search in vain in their application records for someone who connected the dots," he told Holmes.

"Instead, what you see is acceptance of the Huawei position, that Skycom is a partner and there is a distance."

HSBC's internal documents suggest the bank was in possession of records that pointed to a relationship between Huawei and a subsidiary accused of violating sanctions. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Frater told Holmes the HSBC documents do nothing to undercut the simple allegation that underlies a hotly contested, high-profile case that has been dragging out for two-and-a-half years: that Meng lied to her banker.

"We are so far down in the weeds of this case that it ought to give your ladyship pause," Frater told Holmes as he wrapped up his submissions.

"This is the sort of discussion that ought to be had at trial, about what inferences could be drawn from who knew what at what time, and what information was shared. That's why we have trials."

Holmes said she will deliver her decision on whether to allow the documents as evidence on July 9.

Meng will be in the courtroom to hear the judge's ruling. A final decision on the extradition request itself is not expected until the fall.

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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