More than two-and-a-half years after Meng Wanzhou first stepped into a Canadian courtroom, legal arguments at the Huawei executive’s marathon extradition hearing concluded Wednesday.
A final decision on whether to render Meng to the United States to face fraud charges now rests with B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes, who isn’t expected to deliver a verdict for months.
The hotly contested legal battle has seen the case picked apart in minute detail by Meng’s team of prominent defence lawyers and Crown prosecutors led by the Justice Department’s chief counsel, Robert Frater.
True to form, the arguments concluded with a pithy Crown response to a defence case mounted over three days, and then a defence reply to the reply.
“No one has received a fairer extradition hearing in this country than Ms. Meng. Even to the point of getting the last word,” Frater told the judge after Meng’s lawyer stopped speaking.
Decision expected after Oct. 21
Holmes reserved her decision Wednesday, setting a next appearance in the proceedings for Oct. 21. She said she would not have a verdict at that point, but expected to have a better idea of when one might be delivered.
Meng is the chief financial officer of Huawei and the daughter of the Chinese telecommunications giant’s billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei.
The 49-year-old was arrested at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1, 2018, after arriving on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong for a stopover en route to Mexico City and a final destination of Argentina.
The U.S. wants to extradite her to New York, where she faces fraud charges related to an allegation that she misled an HSBC executive in Hong Kong in August 2013 during a meeting called after a series of Reuters reports that suggested a Huawei subsidiary had violated economic sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim Meng gave a PowerPoint presentation that left the impression the subsidiary — Skycom — was a “controllable” local business partner, obscuring the fact that Huawei and Skycom were the same entity.
The Crown argues that HSBC’s risk committee relied on Meng’s alleged misrepresentations in deciding to continue handling Huawei’s business transactions, putting the bank at risk of loss or prosecution for sanctions breaches.
Holmes has to make her decision based on a so-called “record of the case” provided by U.S. officials. The documents, which are held to be presumptively reliable in order to speed up the extradition process, provide a narrative of key events and testimony expected from witnesses.
The judge has to determine whether there would be enough evidence to send Meng to trial for fraud in Canada if her alleged offences had occurred in this country.
‘Not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’
During their submissions, Meng’s lawyers claimed that her PowerPoint presentation was not misleading, that HSBC suffered neither material loss nor concrete threat to its reputation and that none of Meng’s actions had been shown to cause any alleged harm to the bank.
Frater dismissed those arguments point by point.
“My friends have offered you an alternative narrative … that depends on asking you to draw alternative inferences and effectively asks you to ignore important features of the [record of the case] as well as the PowerPoint itself,” Frater said.
The Crown lawyer said the defence had undertaken a “Herculean” task in trying to argue that Meng’s description of Huawei’s relationship with Skycom was not misleading.
“There was some truth,” he admitted. “But we say, not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
In a tweet, Huawei Canada said the company “has been confident in Ms. Meng’s innocence and has trusted the Canadian justice system” from the start.
Huawei Canada Media Statement Regarding Ms. Meng’s Extradition Proceedings. <a href=”https://t.co/WF3jW1WUyc”>pic.twitter.com/WF3jW1WUyc</a>
The social media post also noted the questions Holmes asked during the hearing and media reports which said she viewed the U.S. charges “with skepticism.”
The judge has been an active participant throughout the proceedings and posed more questions for Frater Wednesday about the knowledge of various players in the complicated commercial dealings underpinning the case.
Her question spoke to the defence’s contention that Meng could not have foreseen the kind of transactions that HSBC would have taken in regards to Skycom at the time that she gave her PowerPoint presentation.
Frater said the specifics of the judge’s question might not be addressed in the record of the case, but that the “only reasonable inference” is that the sophisticated executives involved would have known how business works.
Alleged abuse of process
In addition to a decision on the extradition request itself, Holmes will also have to decide on four separate defence applications to stay the proceedings because of alleged abuses of process.
Meng’s lawyers spent months arguing that she was used as a political pawn by former U.S. president Donald Trump; that Canadian authorities violated her rights; that the U.S. misled Canada about the strength of the case; and that the U.S. lacks jurisdiction to prosecute a Chinese citizen for actions that took place in Hong Kong.
The case has roiled relations between Canada and China, with China calling frequently for Meng’s release.
Chinese authorities detained two Canadians within days of Meng’s arrest and have held both former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor in prison on charges of espionage ever since.
Both men have been tried, but no evidence has been publicly disclosed. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in jail last week; a verdict against Kovrig has yet to be delivered.
Most observers believe the men are being held in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
Meng was released on $10 million bail within a week of her arrival in Canada under an arrangement that sees her wearing a GPS monitoring bracelet on her left ankle and accompanied by security guards around the clock.
She has to be at home at night to comply with a curfew, but can move around parts of Vancouver and the North Shore during the day. She lost a bid to loosen her bail restrictions earlier this year.
Holmes has delivered big decisions in the case before, but predicting outcomes has proven to be a risky business for Meng.
In May 2020, Meng posed on the courthouse steps with a group of friends for what appeared to be a premature victory lap in advance of a ruling that could have seen her headed back to China if Holmes had decided the offence Meng is accused of would not be a crime in Canada.
Days later, Meng found herself in court, head bowed, as Holmes said the extradition hearing should proceed.