By Special To The Washington Post · Amanda Coletta
The extradition hearing of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, whose detention by Canadian authorities at the behest of the United States 13 months ago has left Canada caught in a conflict between Washington and Beijing, opened Monday morning in a packed courtroom of the British Columbia Supreme Court.
The Justice Department alleges that Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, committed bank and wire fraud by misleading HSBC about the company's relationship with a subsidiary, SkyCom, effectively tricking it into clearing more than $100 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions on Iran from 2010 to 2014.
Under Canadian law, to "commit" Meng for extradition, the allegations must meet the test of "double criminality," meaning that the charges of which she is accused in the United States must also be considered crimes in Canada.
Meng's legal team told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that the alleged misrepresentations do not amount to fraud, and that the case is really about the United States trying to enforce its sanctions against Iran - sanctions that did not exist in Canada at the time Canadian officials agreed to begin extradition.
"The requesting state has cast this matter as a case of fraud against a bank," said Richard Peck, the Vancouver-based lawyer leading Meng's defense team. "In our respectful submission, this is an artifice. In reality, sanctions violations is the essence of the alleged misconduct."
Canadian prosecutors have called that argument a "complete red herring."
China has cast Meng's arrest as an effort to stunt the country's growth. Asked about the hearing in Beijing on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China's position was "consistent and clear."
"The U.S. and Canada abused their bilateral extradition treaty and arbitrarily took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen without cause," according to remarks posted on the foreign ministry's website. "This is entirely a serious political incident that grossly violates the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizen. . . .
"Once again we urge the Canadian side to take China's position and concerns seriously, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date."
Meng attended the hearing Monday in a black dress with polka dots and black heels that showed off the GPS monitor adorning her ankle. She sat at a table with a translator.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the large basement courtroom in downtown Vancouver for the long-anticipated hearing.
At the heart of Meng's alleged deception is a 2013 meeting at a Hong Kong teahouse, where she delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the bank.
According to the U.S. indictment, the presentation included "numerous misrepresentations" about Huawei's ownership and control of SkyCom, putting the bank at risk of financial harm and criminal liability. Had HSBC known about the alleged sanctions violations, U.S. authorities allege, it would have "reevaluated" its banking relationship with Huawei.
Huawei and Meng deny the allegations. She is out on bail, living in the slightly larger of her two mansions here, where she says she has been passing the time reading and painting.
As the hearing opened Monday, a spokesman for Huawei said it would be "inappropriate for us to give specific comments on the ongoing legal proceeding."
"We trust in Canada's judicial system, which will prove Miss Meng's innocence," spokesman Benjamin Howes said in a video statement. "Huawei stands with Miss Meng in her pursuit of justice and freedom. We hope Miss Meng will be together with her family and colleagues and friends as soon as possible."
If the judge finds that the double criminality test is not met, Meng will be freed, though prosecutors will have an opportunity to appeal. If the test is met, the process will advance to a second stage in June, when Meng's lawyers are expected to argue that the case against her is politically motivated.
Meng has filed a separate lawsuit against the Canada Border Services Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian government, alleging that her constitutional rights were breached when she was detained at Vancouver's airport in December 2018.
The arrest of Huawei's "princess" has touched off a chain of events that has left Canada caught in the middle of a standoff between the United States and China.
China arrested two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, and charged them with stealing state secrets in a move widely viewed as retaliation. They are being held in cramped prisons and have not had access to a lawyer or their families. It also imposed restrictions on several Canadian agricultural imports.
Canadian officials up to and including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have prevailed on the United States for help securing the release of "the two Michaels." U.S. officials up to and including President Trump have raised their detention with their Chinese counterparts, to no avail so far.
Geng, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Monday that China and Canada "have stayed in touch."