The accusations of sanctions busting against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou have been dismissed by her lawyers as “fiction” at the start of a legal hearing in Canada in which she is fighting extradition to the United States.
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the technology conglomerate, and eldest daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei, is wanted by US authorities for alleged fraud in trying to circumvent Washington’s sanctions against Iran.
She made no comment as she rushed past protesters waving “Free Meng” and “Trump stop bullying us” placards outside the special court in Vanouver on Monday.
Inside, she sat following the proceedings with the help of an interpreter as her attorneys used their opening remarks to reject the fraud charges against her on the basis that her alleged conduct was not illegal at the time in Canada.
Her defense lawyer, Richard Peck, told the court that the central issue was “double criminality”, the legal concept that Meng’s extradition to the US requires that her alleged actions also be considered a crime in Canada.
“Would we be here in the absence of U.S. sanctions law, and … our response is no,” Peck said. “In a typical case, double criminality is not contentious. This case, however, is founded on an allegation of breach of US sanctions, sanctions which Canada has expressly repudiated,” he added.
In order to secure her freedom, Meng must convince Judge Heather Holmes that the US charges would not stand up in Canada and are politically motivated.
The US alleges Meng lied to HSBC bank about Huawei’s relationship with its Iran-based affiliate Skycom, putting the bank at risk of violating US sanctions against Tehran.
Meng has denied the allegations in a case that has severely strained China-Canada relations. She has been out on bail, living in one of her two Vancouver mansions for the past year.
Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general, on behalf of the US justice department, will justify extradition by arguing that the US accusations against Meng would be considered a crime in Canada if they had occurred in the country.
“The US has cast [Meng’s] alleged behaviour as a fraud against a bank. This is an artifice,” Peck told the court.
“This case is founded on allegations of breach of US sanctions, which Canada has repudiated,” he said, adding that Canada was effectively being asked “to enforce US sanctions.”
He also argued that HSBC would not be prosecuted in Canada for unwittingly breaking the sanctions and so Meng’s actions caused no harm under its fraud definition.
Earlier, China’s foreign ministry called Meng’s extradition case a “grave political incident” and urged Ottawa to release the Huawei executive in order to normalize relations.
Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, responded that Ottawa “honours its extradition treaty commitments” and would not interfere in the case.
In a statement, Huawei said that it trusted Canada’s judicial system and believed Meng will be found innocent.
Meng’s arrest during a stopover of a Hong Kong-to-Mexico flight in December 2018 put the 47-year-old at the centre of the US and China’s battle over the technology giant’s growing global reach.
It also stuck Canada in the middle of a trade row between the world’s two largest economies, resulting in China restricting agricultural imports from Canada.