A Canadian police officer whose notes suggest that information about Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou’s electronic devices was sent to US law enforcement agents testified on Wednesday that she later concluded the transfer never occurred.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Janice Vander Graaf said that she was initially concerned when first told about the supposed handover by her subordinate Constable Gurvinder Dhaliwal after Meng’s arrest on a US warrant at Vancouver’s airport almost two years ago – but that after reviewing an email from another officer she believed the “inconsistency” had been resolved.
“After reading the email, I realised that it didn’t say exactly what Constable Dhaliwal had told me,” Vander Graaf testified in Meng’s extradition case in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver.
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Canadian government lawyers representing US interests have repeatedly denied that the information – including the electronic serial numbers of Meng’s devices – was ever sent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Meng’s two phones, iPad, laptop and a memory stick were seized by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers in the hours before Meng was arrested by the RCMP at Vancouver’s airport on December 1, 2018, outraging China and sending Beijing’s relations with Ottawa plummeting. The devices were then given to the RCMP.
Meng’s lawyers contend that the handling of the devices’ information is important because, they say, she is the victim of covert evidence-gathering by the border security agency and RCMP that was orchestrated by the FBI to aid a US fraud prosecution.
Meng’s treatment was an abuse of process, they say, because she was questioned and handed over her devices without first being informed she was about to be arrested. As a result, they argue, the extradition request by the US should be tossed out.
Vander Graaf’s notes from December 12, 2018, indicate Dhaliwal told her that Staff Sergeant Ben Chang of the RCMP’s financial integrity unit had sent the serial numbers to an FBI official.
This concerned Vander Graaf, since evidence handovers are governed by a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) with the US. She testified that she wrote up the conversation with Dhaliwal because she believed she might need to recall the evidence.
But Dhaliwal later forwarded Vander Graaf an email from Chang dated December 4. The email “clarified to me what Constable Dhaliwal was saying”, Vander Graaf said.
“It didn’t say that Ben Chang had provided security numbers” to the FBI, she explained. “It said Staff Sergeant Chang would work under the MLAT process and obtain proper authorisation [in] a sending order.”
The email “was inconsistent a bit with what Constable Dhaliwal had said about sharing directly of serial numbers”. But it resolved Vander Graaf’s concerns and she concluded that Dhaliwal had been mistaken in their December 12 conversation.
Chang, who has retired from the RCMP and now works for a casino in the Chinese territory of Macau, said in an affidavit that he did not send the information. But he is refusing to testify in the extradition case; Canada’s Department of Justice said in a filing that it feared for Chang’s safety.
Meng’s lawyers have also questioned other aspects of her treatment at the airport, including CBSA officer Scott Kirkland’s obtaining the passcodes to her devices.
Vander Graaf said that neither she nor, to her knowledge, any RCMP colleagues asked the CBSA to obtain the passcodes. But Kirkland would later give the passcodes to the RCMP in what he last month testified was a “heart-wrenching” blunder that breached Canada’s privacy laws.
Vander Graaf testified that once she found out Dhaliwal had received the passcodes, they couldn’t simply be returned to the CBSA. They had to be logged because they couldn’t be “unseized”, she told government lawyer John Gibb-Carsley.
In cross-examination, Meng’s lawyer Scott Fenton pressed Vander Graaf on why a suggestion from a senior officer, Superintendent Peter Lea, that Meng be arrested on the plane was not followed. Under that sequence of events, Meng would likely have been cautioned before any immigration procedures, if they took place, instead of afterwards.
“Arrests are always unpredictable,” said Vander Graaf, as she said safety risks influenced the decision not to arrest Meng on the plane.
“You had no reasonable concerns [that] Ms Meng was carrying a weapon,” said Fenton, as he went on to reject Vander Graaf’s professed safety concerns.
“I’m suggesting you’re making this up, into a much bigger thing than it was in your mind at the time,” he said.
Vander Graaf denied this.
Fenton suggested Vander Graaf was more concerned that Meng should not be alerted about the arrest warrant until after her immigration procedures, because this might have resulted in her seeking legal counsel. He also suggested Meng had been “deceived” to think she was undergoing a “bona fide immigration exam”.
Vander Graaf again denied the suggestions.
The claim that safety weighed on the decision not to arrest Meng on the plane has previously been made by Constables Dhaliwal and Winston Yep, who ultimately arrested Meng about three hours later.
The US seeks to put Meng on trial in New York on charges that she defrauded HSBC by lying about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran and thus putting the bank at risk of breaching US sanctions.
Meng, who denies the charges, is living under partial house arrest in one of the two houses she owns in Vancouver while she fights the extradition bid.
Soon after her detention, Beijing arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and accused them of spying. Ottawa considers the arrests retaliatory and both men to be victims of hostage-taking.
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