Wednesday , January 27 2021

'Vast' resources, connections make Huawei CFO a flight risk, Crown argues

VANCOUVER-Media flooded the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Friday morning as an international scandal continued to unfold: the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

A ban on the case was also lifted, putting an end to speculation about why Meng was arrested while transferring flights in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of authorities in the United States.

Meng appeared in court for a bail hearing to determine whether she would remain in custody while the US seeks her extradition from Canada. Meng, wearing a green sweater, appeared relaxed in the courtroom even sharing a laugh with her lawyer.

A warrant from authorities in New York contains allegations that Meng knew Huawei was operating as a company called SkyCom to do business in Iran, counter to United States sanctions on the country.

The Crown further argues that Meng has shown a pattern of avoiding the United States, suggesting she suspected an investigation was taking place. Meng was arrested in Vancouver while transferring from her Hong Kong flight to one for Mexico, the court heard.

Meng could face up to 30 years for each charge, but the number of charges has not been revealed.

Meng's lawyers argued she was not a flight risk because her family's reputation would be damaged if she broke any conditions of a potential release, also arguing the allegations from the U.S. are not fully detailed.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the bail review will likely take weeks. The extradition hearings themselves could take years, depending on whether there are appeals, he said.

"You will have a burden to prove that you are not a flight risk and that you are going to comply with the process. The way it's done is that the person engages, on their own expense, 24-hour security, private guards that monitor them independently, "said Kurland.

"Secondly, you will also put together electronic monitoring and you need a place (to stay). So you have to have a residence where all of this is possible. "

Nelson Cunningham, and former U.S. a federal prosecutor and a special adviser to the Clinton administration, said he expected Meng will remain behind bars in anticipation of the outcome of her extradition.

"In the systems I know, someone like this would be very likely to be in custody while their matter is being adjudicated. They are such a flight risk, and because we know that if she leaves Canada, she will go to China and she will be beyond the reach of the process, "Cunningham said.

"I would be shocked if she was released on bail."

Meng is listed as deputy chairman and chief financial officer of Huawei and is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the company. China's embassy in Ottawa opposed detention and called for Meng's "personal freedom" to be restored.

The Canadian Extradition Act stipulates that a person must be facing charges for an offense considered criminal in both Canada and the country seeking extradition.

Cunningham suspected Meng's arrest could be seen as a warning against those who defy US sanctions, which cover Iran's shipping, financial and energy sectors.

"Within the Trump administration, there are powerful cross-currents here," he said. "Because they would very much want to punish Iran by limiting trade with Iran, and by punishing companies that violate those sanctions."

But the move could also have repercussions for Canadian-Chinese relations.

"I could imagine the Chinese government could put a lot of pressure on the Canadian government," Cunningham said.

"There is a big disagreement right now between the US and its closest allies, I think Canada is one of them, over how to interpret what sanctions should be enforced against Iran and what sanctions should not. "

Kurland, meanwhile, wonders whether Canadian business interests in China may be the target of any retaliation.

"Is it risky (now) for Canadian business people to visit China? What if China decides to retaliate with the nab-and-grab of a senior Canadian business person in China? Now what? "Kurland said.

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada's drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

Jeremy Nuttall is the lead investigating reporter for StarMetro Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports

Michael Mui is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @ mui24hours

Joanna Chiu is assistant managing editor of StarMetro Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu

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