Meng Wanzhou: The PowerPoint that sparked an international row

Meng Wanzhou: The PowerPoint that sparked an international row

Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves British Columbia Higher Courts September 23, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada

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The extradition hearings of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou are about to resume

When Meng Wanzhou’s flight landed in Vancouver on December 1, 2018, he expected to make only a short layover. But almost two years later, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the telecommunications giant’s founder seem ready for an extended stay, putting a strain on relations between Canada and China.

The next round of hearings in a lengthy legal battle over his extradition to the United States will begin on Monday.

People involved say the whole process could go on for a decade, leaving Canada caught up in the growing tension between Washington and Beijing, focused on one of China’s most important companies.

At the heart of the story is a sixteen-page corporate PowerPoint presentation.

Stop in Vancouver and stop

When his plane from Hong Kong landed, Meng Wanzhou planned to go to a house he owned in the Canadian city to collect some luggage before taking another flight to Mexico for a company meeting.

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Instead, she was interrogated by Canadian border security officers for three hours as her phone was seized and her bags searched.

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Meng Wanzhou lives under house arrest in Vancouver

Upon completion, she was formally admitted to Canada. It was at this point that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved in and arrested her due to an extradition request made by the United States.

The United States wants Ms. Meng to be tried on charges including fraud related to alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran, charges she denies.

A PowerPoint at the heart of the case

The PowerPoint was used by Ms. Meng in a meeting with HSBC bank on August 22, 2013 and is considered key evidence against her.

Reports from Reuters in previous months had raised doubts that there had been a violation of trade sanctions against Iran by the Hong Kong-based company Skycom.

The question was whether Skycom, a telecom equipment vendor, was simply a business partner of Huawei – or a cover to hide its activities in Iran.

The United States says that in the meeting – the one with the PowerPoint presentation – Ms. Meng misled HSBC about the true nature of Huawei’s relationship with Skycom and this, in turn, put the bank at risk of violating sanctions against the ‘Iran.

His lawyers say the US misled the court, particularly regarding the PowerPoint, by omitting key information on two slides showing that HSBC was, in fact, not kept in the dark about the true nature of the Skycom / Huawei relationship. .

Meng’s lawyers launch a legal battle

Extradition hearings are ongoing, and Ms. Meng’s lawyers have launched a multi-pronged attack on the same US extradition request.

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Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers are fighting his extradition

A first attempt to claim that the crime she is accused of in the United States is not a crime in Canada has failed (although it can be appealed).

Another challenge is centered on the politics around the case.

His lawyers say US President Donald Trump’s comments, which indicated a willingness to use the case as a bargaining chip in trade talks with China, constitute an abuse of process.

Another challenge is his treatment at Vancouver Airport. Her lawyers argue that there has been an abuse of process in the way she was treated.

They are fighting for the disclosure of some documents, including by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, a national intelligence service, and are trying to find out what role US officials might have played in his arrest at the time.

A judge has already rejected requests for some documents, which could in turn be challenged.

The result of all this is a legal process that will keep the lawyers busy, but is unlikely to move quickly.

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The case of Meng Wanzhou is closely followed in Canada and abroad

The preference of Ms. Meng’s lawyers would clearly be that they win and bring her back to China as soon as possible. But if that doesn’t seem likely and they suffer a series of setbacks, they could move on to preventing her from being sent to the United States, which would result in the legal process being canceled.

With so many different strands for a case that is already very unusual and the possibility of appeals, the best estimate from some close to the case is that this could take at least five to ten years.

Geopolitical repercussions

As the legal process unfolds, the impact of the case has spread far and wide.

The arrest of such a high-profile corporate figure led to anger in China, and this month the country’s ambassador said Canada was “exploited” and made “complicit” by America while Washington made a ” barbaric act of bullying “. .

HSBC has been put in a difficult position with Chinese media wondering how far the bank cooperated with the US in building a case they describe as a politically driven trap.

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HSBC bank was involved in the case

The bank, already squeezed between the West and China for its position on Hong Kong, said it only did what was legally required and that there were no traps.

The case also raises broader questions about which countries could arrest corporate executives if they were to receive requests from the United States. This could worry Huawei executives and limit their travel and also worry governments who might find themselves trapped between the US and China.

And it raised concerns that Western businessmen and other travelers might find themselves detained by China for use as a bargaining chip.

Two Canadians were arrested days after Ms. Meng’s arrest. Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, were later charged with espionage.

China has denied any connection, but the couple’s detention has been widely interpreted as a direct response to Ms. Meng’s arrest.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls the detention of the “Two Michaels” arbitrary

This month a group of former Canadian diplomats invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate an exchange of Ms. Meng for the two men.

Mr. Trudeau previously criticized the use of “arbitrary detention as a tool to achieve political goals” and said that stopping his extradition could put Canadians at more risk.

Canada fears being seen as being pushed to short-circuit a legal process, and is also aware that this could risk the ire of the Trump administration, which is set to take a tougher line with China.

It seems unlikely that Washington will give up its case right now during its battles against a multi-pronged offensive against Huawei in particular and China more generally.

Political dynamics may change over time, even after the US presidential election in November.

But for the moment, Ms. Meng’s stay in Canada shows no signs of ending anytime soon or becoming less controversial.

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