Huawei's Meng Wanzhou could be set free next week by extradition ruling

Meng Wanzhou is facing potential extradition to the US as American authorities investigate the company for potential violations of Iran sanctions.
PHOTO: Reuters, Huawei

A crucial ruling in the extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that could see her set free will be issued by a Canadian judge next week, British Columbia's Supreme Court announced on Thursday.

The decision next Wednesday by Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes will address whether the case against Meng satisfies the rule of double criminality, which requires that suspects in extradition cases be accused of something that would constitute a crime in Canada, as well as the requesting country.

Meng's arrest at Vancouver's airport on December 1, 2018, on the request of US authorities who want her to face trial in New York on fraud charges, was a pivotal moment in troubled China-US relations.

Beijing's relationship with Canada has also been sent to a new low with Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig being arrested on spying charges that have been widely seen as retaliation for Meng's treatment.

If Holmes decides double criminality rules have not been satisfied, then Meng could be freed, although that could depend on whether the Canadian government lawyers representing the US decide to appeal.

If Holmes says double criminality has been satisfied, the extradition case will continue, with Meng's lawyers arguing for her to be freed on other grounds.

The timing of the double criminality decision was announced in a memo to lawyers that outlined details for the release of the judgment to the media. Holmes's decision will be emailed to Meng's lawyers and those for Canada's attorney general at 9am on May 27.

But they are barred from sharing the decision with anyone, including Meng, Canadian authorities or the US Department of Justice, until 10am.

At that time, the reasons would also be released to journalists chosen to take part in a one-hour media lock-up at the courthouse, during which they would be prevented from sharing or discussing the ruling outside the room.

Journalists will finally be allowed to publish the decision at 11am, when it will also be released on the court's website. At the same time, a court appearance by Meng is scheduled.

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Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of CEO Ren Zhengfei, is accused of defrauding HSBC bank by deceiving it about Huawei's business dealings in Iran, in violation of US sanctions on the country. She faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Her lawyers say the fraud case is a "dressed up" attempt to prosecute Meng for breaking US sanctions, which is not a crime in Canada. But Canada's lawyers say the bank fraud charge satisfies double criminality.

Meng's case has been subjected to Covid-19 considerations, with the BC courts' normal operations having been suspended since March 19.

Thursday's memo said the number of reporters allowed to take part in the lock-up was being limited to 27 "in order to maintain sufficient physical distance between those in attendance consistent with public health restrictions".

Meng and lawyers took part in two hearings by telephone, on March 31 and April 27, in what government lawyer John Gibb-Carsley called "a unique case occurring in unique times".

Meng is living in a C$13.6 million (S$13.8 million) mansion, one of two homes she owns in Vancouver. She is free on C$10 million bail and is allowed to travel around most of Vancouver, but she must abide by a curfew, wear a GPS monitor on her ankle and not go near the city's airport.

Her extradition case is expected to continue until October or November, if Holmes lets the case proceed next week. But the appeal process means it could drag on for years.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.