Monday, July 26, 2021

in-focus

Huawei executive Meng to say Trump 'poisoned' her extradition case


TORONTO - Lawyers for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou will return to court Monday to argue against her extradition to the United States on fraud charges. But the focus will be on former president Donald Trump.

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The lawyers are expected to argue that Trump has so "poisoned" the hearings that they can "no longer be reasonably regarded as fair" and should be halted.

The claim is one of four pillars of the abuse-of-process argument that Meng will mount in hearings before British Columbia Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes. The hearings are expected to stretch into May and be closely watched in Beijing, Washington and Ottawa.

Canada arrested Meng in Vancouver in 2018 at the behest of U.S. officials. The U.S. Department of Justice says she misled banks about Huawei's relationship with a subsidiary, Skycom, effectively tricking them into violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Meng, 49, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, denies wrongdoing. Her arrest has landed Canada squarely in the middle of a geopolitical standoff between China and the United States.

Days after Meng's arrest, China detained two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, apparently in retaliation. It later banned imports of some Canadian crops and put several Canadians on death row.

Meng's arguments center on what her legal team describes in court filings as "shocking and corrosive" statements made by Trump and other officials, which attorneys say reduced her to "an economic asset" and "risk undermining the integrity . . . and fairness" of the proceedings.

Among them are comments Trump made to Reuters the week after Meng's arrest in which he said he would "certainly intervene" in her case if he thought it could serve national security interests or help broker a trade deal with China.

"The President, as chief executive of the requesting state, has made repeated threats to intervene in the applicant's case in order to leverage her prosecution for political purposes," Meng's lawyers wrote. "This conduct is deeply offensive to the rule of law and the integrity of the judicial process."

They say it was "all the more intimidating" because Trump had "intervened in, or actively 'weighed in' on, criminal cases for personal or political reasons," and once declared himself - incorrectly - to be the country's "chief law enforcement officer."

They point to Trump's commutation of the sentence of confidant Roger Stone, whom a jury found guilty of witness tampering, lying to Congress and obstructing justice, and his pardon of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Meng's lawyers also cite comments by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Asked by Fox News about Trump's statement to Reuters, Pompeo said "any time there is a law enforcement engagement, we need to make sure we take foreign policy considerations into effect."

And they note the words of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who in December 2019 said he'd asked the United States not to "sign a final and complete [trade] agreement with China that does not settle the question of Meng Wanzhou and the two Canadians."

"The clear implication of these comments is that the Prime Minister has communicated to the requesting state that he supports its use of the applicant's case as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations," the lawyers wrote.

Lawyers for Canada's attorney general, who represent U.S. interests in the case, have dismissed those arguments as moot.

"The facts on which it is based - statements by a President no longer in office, about a possible intervention in a case that never occurred, purportedly to achieve a trade deal that has long since been successfully negotiated - have no past, present or prospective impact on these proceedings," they wrote in legal filings.

They say Trump's statements were inconsistent with those of other U.S. officials, and accuse the defense of seeking to "compensate for its weakness through hyperbolic characterization of the supposed impact of these statements."

Meng's other arguments include claims her rights were breached during her questioning and arrest, that the U.S. Justice Department misled Canada about the record of the case against her and that the case contravenes customary international law.

Last year, Meng's lawyers questioned some of the border agents and law enforcement officials involved in her arrest. One border agent said he inappropriately shared the codes to her devices with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He said it was a "heart-wrenching" mistake, and unintentional.

Meng's arrest has strained ties between Canada and China.

Beijing indicted Kovrig and Spavor last year on vague espionage charges for which it has provided no evidence. Known here as the Two Michaels, they have been barred from seeing their families; Canada considers their detentions "arbitrary."

Meng is out on $8 million bail under partial house arrest at the larger of her two Vancouver mansions, where she receives private massages and art lessons.

China has cast Meng's arrest as a U.S.-backed plot to stunt the country's rise. It has denied a link between her arrest and the detention of Kovrig and Spavor, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman said last year that her release could "open up space for resolution of the situation of the two Canadians."

Trudeau has taken heat from all sides. Several prominent Canadians, including former foreign ministers, have urged him to release Meng in the hope that it might spur China to free the Canadians. Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, have pressed him to take a harder stand against Beijing.

Canada this month rallied 58 other countries, including the United States, to sign a nonbinding declaration against the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals in state-to-state relations. The declaration did not single out China.The minister "would need to decide if it remains in Canada's national interest to order the surrender of Meng, notwithstanding the court's order of committal," Bolton said. "In this case, so fraught with political overtones and undertones, one doesn't know what the end result would be."

The Washington Post reported last year that the U.S. Department of Justice was in talks with Meng to resolve her case. Alykhan Velshi, vice president of corporate affairs for Huawei Canada, declined to comment.

"We have confidence in the courts here to reach the same conclusion we have, which is that the legal process was repeatedly abused by those seeking to extradite Meng Wanzhou to the U.S.," Velshi said. "The charges are without merit, the allegations are baseless and the arrest itself was a master class in how to violate a person's rights."

Most extradition requests from the United States are granted, but any decision probably will be appealed. Michael Bolton, a Vancouver-based criminal lawyer, said the test for proving an abuse of process is "pretty strict."

If Holmes rules that there's enough evidence to commit Meng for extradition, the ultimate decision on "surrender" would fall to Canada's minister of justice.

Published : March 01, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Amanda Coletta