Crown accuses Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers of trying to turn extradition into a trial

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves her home to go to B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A lawyer for Canada’s attorney general pleaded Tuesday with the judge overseeing Meng Wanzhou’s extradition hearing not to let the Huawei executive’s defence team turn the proceedings into a trial.

Robert Frater accused Meng’s lawyers of using a pair of applications related to the underlying record of the case as a means to offer the 48-year-old a defence to charges of fraud and conspiracy.

Frater told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that extradition hearings are supposed to be “expeditious.” And he said that the defence’s arguments would instead see the judge forced to weigh in on matters far outside her role or expertise.

“It falls to you to try to keep these proceedings on the straight and narrow,” Frater told Holmes. “You should stop this application here and now.”

Frater’s submissions followed a day and a half of arguments in which Meng’s lawyers accused the U.S. of trying to mislead the court by cherry-picking evidence and omitting facts in order to justify Meng’s extradition.

Meng, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested at the Vancouver airport on Dec. 1, 2018 on a stopover from Hong Kong to a business conference in Argentina.

She is accused of lying to an HSBC executive in Hong Kong in 2013 about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary that allegedly violated U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Prosecutors claim Meng delivered a PowerPoint presentation which HSBC later relied on to continue clearing financial transactions through the U.S. for the telecommunications giant, thus placing the bank at risk of violating the same sanctions.

Meng’s lawyers argued on Monday the official record of the case drawn up by U.S. authorities omitted two slides from the presentation which proved Meng had not misled HSBC.

And they also asked Holmes to admit affidavits from witnesses who claim that previous run-ins with the law meant HSBC would have conducted its own due diligence on the transactions — with or without Meng — and that the bank had a means to work outside the U.S. banking system.

‘Garden-variety’ defences

Meng’s lawyers want Holmes to consider the alleged misrepresentations as a potential abuse of process worthy of staying the proceedings.

But Frater said the judge has an important role as a gatekeeper to ensure hearings don’t get bogged down in motions that would resemble a trial — as opposed to a process to see if another nation has a presumptive case against a defendant accused of an offence that would also be a crime in Canada.

a woman looking at the camera: Meng is accused of lying to an HSBC banker about Huawei's relationship with a company accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.© Ben Nelms/CBC Meng is accused of lying to an HSBC banker about Huawei’s relationship with a company accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Meng’s lawyers claimed they were not trying to mount a defence to the allegations against their client or to provide the judge with an “alternate inference” of the facts.

“Saying that does not make it so,” Frater told Holmes. “Their material is garden-variety alternative inference and defence evidence that is inadmissible.”

The material the defence wants admitted includes an affidavit from John Bellinger, a former counsel to the George W. Bush White House, who claims the U.S. has never imposed civil or criminal penalties on a bank for breaking sanctions after being misled by a customer.

Frater said that if Holmes admits that type of statement, she would be getting into areas that would force her to become an expert on U.S. sanctions and tax law in order to make a decision on a straightforward extradition.

“Extradition hearings are not trials,” Frater said.

Limited space for media

Meng appeared at the hearing wearing a face mask and a long purple dress. A reporter addressed the judge before the day’s proceedings got underway to speak about the limited access to the courtroom for media, which is limited to six seats.

A number of reporters, including journalists for international wire services, were left outside the court on Monday. But Holmes said the court is doing the best it can given the need to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two members of the Chinese consulate were in the public gallery along with two of Meng’s security guards. Holmes said she felt the Chinese consulate representatives had a right to be in the room.

Although a week was set aside for the hearing, the proceedings are expected to wrap up on Wednesday. Meng’s lawyers are expected to argue that her rights were violated at the time of her arrest at a hearing in February, when they will also raise alleged political interference by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Meng is living under a type of house arrest in one of two multi-million dollar mansions she owns on Vancouver’s west side after her release on $10 million bail in the days after her arrest.

In addition to round-the-clock surveillance, she is also required to wear a GPS-monitoring ankle bracelet.

Meng has denied the charges against her.

No final decision is expected on extradition until well into 2021.