Delaying Meng Wanzhou’s airport arrest until after border exam was not an FBI conspiracy, extradition hearing is told

Ian Young
·6-min read

The decision to delay the arrest of Meng Wanzhou until Canadian border officers had first questioned her in a three-hour examination at Vancouver’s airport was not directed by police or the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to gather evidence against her, Canadian government lawyers told the Huawei executive’s extradition hearing on Wednesday.

Lawyer Diba Majzub told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the Supreme Court of British Columbia that Meng underwent “routine procedures” of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

“It wasn’t the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] telling the CBSA ‘would you go first and do something for us?’ It wasn’t the FBI talking to the CBSA. It was the CBSA that made that decision,” Majzub said.

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The decision by the border officers that their exam should take priority over the arrest by the RCMP on December 1, 2018 – on a warrant that said Meng should be arrested “immediately” – was reasonable in the context of a port of entry, Majzub argued.

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, leaves the Supreme Court of British Columbia during a break from her extradition proceedings in Vancouver on Tuesday. Photo: The Canadian Press via AP
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, leaves the Supreme Court of British Columbia during a break from her extradition proceedings in Vancouver on Tuesday. Photo: The Canadian Press via AP

The RCMP officers tasked with arresting Meng likewise recognised they were on CBSA “turf”, Majzub said.

“The immediacy requirement in the warrant was not the determining factor,” in deciding which agencies’ requirements took priority, said Majzub. “Context matters, that’s the point,” he added, and the warrant’s immediacy requirement “was not a command to ignore reason”.

Meng’s lawyers contend that her arrest on a US-requested warrant, to face trial for fraud in New York, was deliberately delayed so the border officers could act as proxies for the FBI to conduct a covert criminal investigation.

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They say her questioning and the seizure of her electronic devices and passcodes was not a legitimate immigration process, but was an unlawful attempt to investigate her on behalf of the Americans.

Meng is applying to have her extradition thrown out on the basis that her Canadian charter rights were abused so “egregiously” that a stay of proceedings is the only remedy.

But government lawyers say the abuse did not occur. Meng’s claim that there was a conspiracy between the FBI, RCMP and CBSA was based on nothing more than “speculation and innuendo”, they say.

The RCMP gained no advantage by the arrest being delayed, said Majzub. In a written submission, the government argued the allegation that the RCMP “manipulated the sequence of processes” to disadvantage Meng was “entirely speculative”.

And while the border officers knew Meng was going to be arrested, their pursuit of evidence of criminality by Meng was valid to establish her admissibility to Canada, said Majzub, and not to further the US prosecution. It just happened that the reason for the admissibility concern was the same reason for her arrest, he said.

“[The] CBSA had bona fide national security and criminal inadmissibility concerns,” the submission said.

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Majzub walked the judge through the various arguments Meng’s lawyers have used to bolster their claims that the border procedures had no legitimate immigration purpose.

[The border officers] never resiled from their core testimony that neither the RCMP nor the FBI asked the CBSA to conduct an examination, ask particular questions or gather evidence

A submission by government lawyers

They had suggested that one of the border officers who questioned Meng, Superintendent Sanjit Dhillon, had concocted his claim in an affidavit that he developed national security concerns about her after conducting internet searches. But at the time, Dhillon’s actions had not been questioned, said Majzub, and hence there was no need to concoct a rationale.

Majzub said that contrary to the defence claim that Meng’s electronic devices were only seized to aid the FBI, the CBSA had an “independent and legitimate interest” in them as part of their admissibility inquiries.

Although the devices were secured in signal-blocking bags provided by the RCMP in accordance with an FBI request, this served CBSA purposes to preserve the integrity of their data too, said Majzub, citing Dhillon’s testimony.

The phone passcodes were given to the RCMP in a breach of Meng’s privacy, both sides agree, but Majzub said this was done by Border Security Officer Scott Kirkland by mistake, an error Kirkland “candidly” admitted.

“He didn’t seek to minimise his mistake,” and Kirkland’s embarrassed reaction at a meeting about the examination a couple days later was consistent with his realising the error, said Majzub.

RCMP Constable Gurvinder Dhaliwal, who received the passcodes, took a photo of Kirkland’s handwritten note and logged it as an exhibit.

This too was inconsistent with the idea of a covert plan to gather evidence for the FBI, which would hinge on keeping it secret. “There’s no conspiratorial behaviour here,” Majzub told Holmes.

Various border officers had provided “clear, forthright and transparent explanations for their actions” said the government lawyers’ written submission.

“They never resiled from their core testimony that neither the RCMP nor the FBI asked the CBSA to conduct an examination, ask particular questions or gather evidence. The officers only acted in furtherance of the CBSA’s mandate to secure the border,” it said.

The hearing was adjourned until Thursday.

Meng, 49, who is the chief financial officer of Huawei and the eldest daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, is accused of defrauding HSBC by lying about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, thus putting the bank at risk of breaching US sanctions on Tehran. She denies the charges and has been fighting the US extradition request for the past 27 months.

The extradition case may be nearing its final stages. Hearings are due to conclude on May 14, after which Holmes must decide whether to approve extradition. However, appeals could last for years, and a final decision on whether to send Meng to the US will rest with Canada’s justice minister.

Meng’s arrest threw China’s relations with Canada and the US into turmoil. Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were detained by China days after Meng’s arrest, and they both underwent brief trials in the past week.

The trials, conducted in secret due to national security considerations according to Chinese officials, concluded in a matter of hours without verdicts being announced.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other officials have said the men are victims of arbitrary detention and “hostage diplomacy” by China, in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.

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