A B.C. Supreme Court judge has delivered a major blow to Meng Wanzhou, ruling that extradition proceedings against the Huawei executive should proceed.
In a widely anticipated decision on so-called double criminality, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said the offence Meng is accused of by American prosecutors would be considered a crime if it occurred in Canada.
The 48-year-old chief financial officer of the telecommunications giant is charged with fraud in the United States for allegedly deceiving banks into a possible violation of U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
In a 23-page ruling released Wednesday, Holmes said that the essence of Meng’s alleged crime is fraud.
And the fact that Canada doesn’t have the same economic sanctions against Iran as the U.S. wouldn’t stop someone being prosecuted in Canada for the same offence.
“Canada’s law of fraud looks beyond international boundaries,” Holmes wrote in her decision.
“Ms. Meng’s approach to the double criminality analysis would seriously limit Canada’s ability to fulfil its international obligations in the extradition context for fraud and other economic crimes.”
Meng appeared in court shortly after the public release of the decision, showing no visible reaction to the loss. She wore a mask as she took her place beside her defence lawyers in the courtroom.
Extradition hearings to proceed
The executive was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018 on an extradition warrant. She is accused of lying to an HSBC executive in Hong Kong about Huawei’s control of a company that was said to be violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim that Meng’s alleged lies put banks at risk of prosecution and loss because they would be violating U.S. sanctions themselves in handling Huawei’s finances.
Meng has denied the allegations against her. A statement from Huawei on Wednesday said the company was “disappointed” in Holmes’s ruling and that her lawyers will continue to push for her freedom.
“Our view is that this is an early step in what’s likely to be a much longer process for Meng Wanzhou here in Canada,” said Alykhan Velshi, vice president of corporate affairs of Huawei Canada.
“We’re confident that Meng Wanzhou will be vindicated,” Velshi told CBC News outside the courthouse.
The ruling does not necessarily mean that Meng will be extradited to the U.S.
The judge still has to hold hearings to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant extradition, and Meng has also claimed that her rights were violated at the time of her arrest.
Holmes pointed out that Canada’s minister of justice will also have a chance to weigh in on whether a decision to commit Meng for extradition would be contrary to Canadian values.
The ministry confirmed in a statement that extradition proceedings will go ahead “as expeditiously as possible.”
‘Beyond international boundaries’
The decision Wednesday comes as a major setback to Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei. On Saturday night, she staged a photo shoot on the steps of the B.C. Supreme Court building in apparent anticipation of a victory.
Meng’s lawyers argued that the fact Canada does not have economic sanctions against Iran meant her alleged actions would not have been considered a crime in Canada because no bank would have suffered a loss in an identical set of circumstances.
The Crown argued that Meng’s alleged offence was fraud, pure and simple, which is a crime in both countries.
In the ruling, Holmes wrestled with the question of whether a judge can consider the effect of U.S. sanctions in coming to a decision, given that she was supposed to be imagining a hypothetical version of the events set in Canada.
But the judge said Meng’s lawyers were trying to make the scope of her analysis too narrow.
“Canada’s law of fraud looks beyond international boundaries to encompass all the relevant details that make up the factual matrix, including foreign laws that may give meaning to some of the facts,” Holmes said.
“The offence of fraud has a vast potential scope. It may encompass a very wide range of conduct, a large expanse of time, and acts, people and consequences in multiple jurisdictions. Experience shows that many fraudsters benefit in particular from international dealings through which they can obscure their identity and the location of their fraudulent gains.”
Holmes also addressed Meng’s lawyers’ concern that the offence would see Canada enforcing sanctions Canadians have explicitly rejected.
She pointed out that economic sanctions are not as “fundamentally contrary” to Canadian values as something like slavery.
And she said it would ultimately be the job of Justice Minister David Lametti to decide whether surrendering Meng to the U.S. authorities would be “unjust or oppressive.”
China has repeatedly expressed anger at Canada for arresting Meng.
The Chinese government has targeted Canadian canola and meat imports.
And within days of Meng’s arrest, authorities detained two Canadians who were living and working in China, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.
Both men have been accused of spying and have been held in custody ever since.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Wednesday that Canada’s “top priority” is securing the release of Kovrig and Spavor as well as clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty in China, including Robert Schellenberg.
“We will continue to advocate for their immediate release,” Champagne tweeted.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called for Meng’s release once more on Tuesday, insisting the dispute was political, not legal.
“The Canadian side should immediately correct its mistake, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date so as to avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations,” Zhao said in a news conference.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a statement thanking the Canadian government for its “continued assistance” in the case against Meng. Champagne’s statement reiterated that Canada’s judiciary operates independently.