January 23, 2020 / 1:01 PM / a month ago

U.S. extradition battle over Huawei's Meng ends first phase but Canada court fight continues

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The first phase of battle over whether Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou should be extradited to the United States wrapped up on Thursday after four days, with lawyers for Meng challenging prosecution claims that her alleged actions are a crime in Canada.

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves B.C. Supreme Court on a lunch break during her extradition hearing at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier

In a Vancouver courtroom, lawyers for Meng opposed the Canadian prosecutor’s arguments saying her alleged actions are not a crime in Canada because the charges of bank fraud are dependent on violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Canada had no sanctions against Iran when the extradition process began.

The judge said she would reserve her decision for a later date. Lawyers connected to the case expect a written judgement before April 27, when Meng is set to call evidence related to her arrest, which she alleges was improperly conducted.

On Thursday, in their final arguments Meng’s lawyer, Scott Fenton, told the judge that the U.S. request to extradite Meng is “all and only about sanctions risk.”

Fenton said that to side with the prosecution, and allow Meng to be extradited, would be an embarrassment to the Canadian judicial system.

“The court is being embarrassed. There can be no fraud here because all risk to HSBC is based on underlying sanctions risk which cannot exist in Canada,” he told the judge.

The United States has charged Meng with bank fraud, and accused her of misleading HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L) about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s [HWT.UL] business in Iran.

Court proceedings show the United States issued the arrest warrant, which Canada acted on in December 2018, because it believes Meng covered up attempts by Huawei-linked companies to sell equipment to Iran, breaking U.S. sanctions against the country.

But Meng’s legal team argued that “double criminality,” is the central issue in this case. Under Canadian extradition laws, a person can only be extradited if the offence they are alleged to have committed in another country is also considered illegal in Canada. This is commonly called “double criminality.”

Unlike the United States, Canada did not have sanctions against Iran at the time Canadian officials authorized the start of the extradition process, her lawyers have said.

If the judge finds that double criminality has not been met, then Meng would be free. However, the prosecution could immediately appeal the decision. Legal experts have said it could be years before a final decision is reached due to appeals.

‘INHERENTLY POLITICAL’

Meng has said she is innocent and is fighting extradition. She entered court wearing a white polka dot dress with a long-sleeved black top and stiletto heels that she has often favoured during the trial.

Meng’s lawyers acknowledge that between 2011 and 2016, Canada had economic sanctions against Iran, but that at the time the U.S. requested Meng for extradition, Canada had already done away with sanctions against Iran, “along with the rest of the civilized world.”

The case is therefore inherently political because it is about whether Canada imports the U.S. sanctions law — a “political law” — and applies it to an extradition request, said Richard Peck, one of Meng’s lawyers.

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves B.C. Supreme Court on a lunch break during her extradition hearing at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier

On Wednesday, prosecutors argued that Meng should be extradited on fraud charges, and that contrary to her defence argument, the case is not solely about violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. They argued that the judge’s job was to “ensure that Canada doesn’t become a safe haven for fraudsters.”

Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei, remains free on bail in Canada, and has been living in a mansion in Vancouver’s exclusive Shaughnessy neighbourhood.

Meng’s legal team is currently only scheduled to call evidence in the last week of April, and a second phase of the trial, focussing on abuse of process and whether Canadian officials followed the law while arresting Meng, is set to begin in June. Closing arguments are expected in the last week of September and first week of October.

Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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