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China’s ‘princess of Huawei’ faces her biggest battle

No longer in China, Meng now spends her days in Vancouver, Canada, where she has taken up oil painting and devoted more time to reading while abiding by strict curfew measures.

“It was never my intention to be stuck here so long, but I suddenly find that a whole year has snuck by, and here I still am,” she wrote in a letter published in December 2019.

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For the “princess of Huawei” the two years since her arrest have been a challenging time, as the telecoms firm has come under growing pressure from Western governments accusing it of spying on behalf of the Chinese government. The drama has even spilt over in the UK, where a decision was made last month to strip out all Huawei telecoms gear from 5G networks by 2027. Huawei has repeatedly denied all claims of espionage.

But even as pressure from the US continues, Meng refuses to go down without a fight.

The executive appeared in court on Monday (Canada time) for a week-long battle as she offers new arguments to make her case that US requests for her extradition are inherently political. Is she right?

“It is plain and obvious to the person in the street that this is Trump-orchestrated, that Ms Meng was a trade pawn in a Washington-Beijing trade negotiation,” says Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based lawyer who has followed the case closely.

One key argument to emerge will centre on Meng’s treatment at the Canadian airport. Despite a warrant put out for her immediate arrest once she landed, the Huawei executive was allowed to go through customs before facing a four-hour interrogation, a source says.

Emails already unveiled in court show officials from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police knew what Meng was wearing on her flight, raising suspicions that US national security officials, rather than law enforcement, were “involved throughout the process”.

“There’s no way they could know that other than from some sort of official in Asia who observed her entering the flight,” a source says.

“Since those emails weren’t turned over by Canadian officials we would assume it’s a US official.”

In December last year, Huawei won a legal battle for the release of documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (the country’s version of MI5) that would offer some insight into the communications Canadian officials had with US authorities.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls to bring the extradition trial to a close over concerns that a hasty move could "imperil" Canadians abroad.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls to bring the extradition trial to a close over concerns that a hasty move could “imperil” Canadians abroad.Credit:Bloomberg

However, the release of those spy agency documents earlier this year came with “very heavy redactions”. Huawei’s lawyers have suggested that large sections of the documents that are blacked out could show orders from the US for the arrest.

“It’s argued that the redactions are more extreme than they ought to be,” a source says, though Canada has argued that any move to reveal more information would compromise its national security.

Then there is the presentation delivered in Hong Kong. It is understood that, as part of evidence submitted by the US to Canada, two slides were left out that a source familiar with the matter claims “actually discussed the controlling relationship between Huawei and Skycom”. A source says: “The version of the PowerPoint presentation that the US supplied to Canada… they only supplied certain slides.”

Why a couple of pages in a slide deck matter at all is a key part of Meng’s defence. The US alleges she misled HSBC over the links to what it describes as an Iranian subsidiary. Meng says she did not. Her proof? The submission of “the entire PowerPoint presentation” in court filings in July.

It was never my intention to be stuck here so long, but I suddenly find that a whole year has snuck by, and here I still am.

Meng Wangzhou’s letter in 2019

In a statement, HSBC said: “We are not a party to this case; so it’s inappropriate for us to comment. We were legally compelled to provide certain information to the DOJ [Department of Justice], and HSBC responded factually to the DOJ’s requests for information.”

Last month, HSBC, which has been accused by Chinese media of colluding with the US to “ensnare” Huawei, made a rebuttal of the claims against it with a post on social media app WeChat that said “the timeline of events in the Huawei case makes it absolutely clear that HSBC did not prompt the investigation of Huawei”.

A key argument, centring on the US president, will emerge next year too, it is understood. Huawei lawyers will argue that comments made by Donald Trump about Meng’s use as a bargaining chip in his run-ins with China constitute an “abuse of process”.

John Bolton, the former US national security adviser, claimed in his memoir published in June that at the White House Christmas dinner in December 2018, Trump remarked that Meng was like “the Ivanka Trump of China”, offering support to an argument driven by Huawei.

“The most flagrant comment Trump made was he would be willing to drop the prosecution against her if it got him better terms on a trade deal with China,” a source said.

Meng Wangzhou is the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

Meng Wangzhou is the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.Credit:Bloomberg

Bolton has said he would be happy to testify under oath in the extradition case, but whether or not Huawei will have any success in the new legs of its arguments remains uncertain.

Already, the company has had one line of argument dismissed, after a court battle in May saw Meng’s lawyers reason that the fraud she is accused of by the US doesn’t stand in Canada because the country doesn’t have similar sanctions against Iran.

One source says it would be the equivalent of saying marijuana is legal in Canada, but it’s not legal in the US, making a hypothetical extradition by Canada to the US unlawful as a result. Heather Holmes, a supreme court justice in British Columbia, ultimately rejected the argument.

Meng has come up against more pressure since, after both she and Huawei were indicted by the US justice department in February this year with 16 new counts of racketeering and conspiring to steal US trade secrets.

“Huawei’s efforts to steal trade secrets and other sophisticated US technology were successful,” the justice department said at the time.

“Huawei was able to drastically cut its research and development costs and associated delays, giving the company a significant and unfair competitive advantage,” it added.

With extradition cases sometimes taking upwards of 10 years in Canada, the jury is still out, but there will be many who will want it to come to a close sooner rather than later.

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Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, has rejected calls to bring the extradition trial to a close over concerns that a hasty move could “imperil” Canadians abroad, including two who were detained by Chinese officials just days after Meng’s arrest.

There is no doubt that Huawei stands in the middle of a battle between the US and China, each nation attempting to sucker punch the other.

Meng’s fate hangs in the balance.

Telegraph, London

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