Meng Wanzhou’s fight against extradition to the US from Canada suffered a further setback following the decision of the UK High Court on 19 February 2021.
Meng Wanzhou is the Chief Financial Officer of controversial Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. In 2018 she was detained in Canada for questioning and was arrested on a provisional extradition request from the United States for fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in order to circumvent US sanctions against Iran. Since December 2018 she had been under house arrest in Canada on CAN$10 million bail while fighting her extradition to the US.
The US alleges that Meng misled HSBC about Huawei’s relationship with the telecoms firm Skycom, in which it has a controlling share in order to obtain global finance. During a PowerPoint presentation to HSBC in Hong Kong in 2013, she is said to have deceived the bank by indicating that the company Skycom was a business partner and not a subsidiary of Huawei. At the time, Skycom was suspected of breaching US sanctions with Iran.
Meng’s legal team argue that HSBC was well aware of the nature of the relationship with Skycom and contend that the US have provided an incomplete picture to the Canadian authorities in terms of the original presentation. This led to proceedings at the UK High Court brought under an old statute, The Bankers Book Evidence Act 1879. Meng’s legal team wanted to use this statute to obtain documents from HSBC that they believed would undermine the extradition proceedings.
The application was dismissed by Mr Justice Fordham. He ruled that HSBC did not have to hand over its books to Huawei, as the 1879 Act did not encompass every document that a bank had. Furthermore, he found that he did not have the jurisdiction to compel HSBC to hand over the material in this case. He ordered Meng to pay HSBC £80,000 towards legal fees.
This outcome was no doubt a relief to HSBC, who have come under increasing pressure in navigating the choppy political waters that surround this case. China has criticised the way they have handled dealings but HSBC say that they have handed over to the US authorities what they are legally required to.
In the UK, HSBC has been under fire for freezing the bank accounts of a prominent pro-democracy leader Ted Hui. He left Hong Kong for Denmark in 2020 and is now in London claiming political asylum.
The Meng case has severely strained Canadian-Chinese relations. In December 2018 two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in China on allegations of endangering China’s security. They remain in custody as diplomatic efforts continue to secure their release. Their arrest was seen as direct retaliation against Canada for the arrest of Meng.
The next stage in proceedings for Meng will be a hearing in March 2021 at the Supreme Court in British Columbia. The Court will hear arguments that the extradition proceedings amount to an abuse, based on former President Trump’s comments on the case. In effect, they argue Weng’s case was being used as leverage in political negotiations between the US and China over trade and therefore the prosecution amounts to an abuse.
This line of argument will be more difficult to sustain given Trump is no longer in office. In documents released in the case the Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti, said that Meng’s argument relies on public statements made by a President who is no longer in office about a possible intervention in the case that never actually occurred, in order to achieve a trade deal with China that has since been negotiated.
The focus of this case now shifts back to Canada and the hearing in March 2021.
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Solicitor in our White Collar Crime Defence Team