Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou’s marathon extradition case may be about to get even longer, after her lawyers asked to adjourn the final phase of the hearing for more than three months, saying they expect new evidence about her alleged bank fraud case from HSBC.
They applied to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver on Monday to delay the last three weeks of the case until August 3, in light of a Hong Kong court settlement in which the bank agreed to provide more material supposedly relevant to the case. The hearings had been slated to start on April 26.
Meng’s lawyer Richard Peck told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that the “modest” adjournment was necessary as a matter of “fundamental fairness”, and he denied “just trying to string this out”.
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Canadian government lawyers, representing US interests in the case, cried foul.
“Two and a half years from the start of these proceedings, countless hours spent fashioning a schedule agreed by both sides, and mere days from reaching the finishing line, the applicant asks this court to take a several month pause,” they said in a written response. “Her request should be denied.”
In court, the Canadian Department of Justice’s top lawyer, Robert Frater, said: “There is literally no basis for this request … they are asking once again to have this court turn itself into a trial court.”
It was only Meng’s “unlimited resources” that allowed her to file the application, he said.
Meng’s lawyers claim the material from HSBC may boost their case that US authorities have deceived the Canadian court and Meng’s extradition should therefore be thrown out.
The delay was needed “to obtain, review, assess, and, if justified, seek to introduce relevant evidence that is reasonably believed may assist in demonstrating that the requesting state has mislead this court and Canadian authorities”, they wrote in their adjournment application.
HSBC has agreed to provide material to Meng as a result of a consent order granted by the High Court of Hong Kong on April 12.
“[There] is a reasonable inference that the Hong Kong HSBC disclosure that the applicant will receive may include evidence … establishing that the ROCs [records of the case] are misleading,” the BC court application said.
My lady, this process must come to a conclusion. Extradition hearings are supposed to be expeditious.
Canadian government lawyer Robert Frater
Meng, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, is accused by US authorities of defrauding HSBC by lying to the bank about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, thus putting the bank at risk of breaching US sanctions on the Middle Eastern country.
She was arrested at Vancouver’s airport on December 1, 2018 and has been fighting a US request to have her extradited to face trial in New York ever since.
In their application, Meng’s lawyers separately argue that a delay is also needed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying “rising and critical health concerns” about the virus in BC made a three week hearing starting next week “unadvisable and potentially dangerous”.
BC has recently been averaging about 1,000 new Covid-19 cases per day.
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The Canadian government lawyers’ response says there is no evidence that the new material would be either admissible or relevant.
The request “is the latest in a series of attempts to turn these proceedings into a trial that should properly take place in the requesting state”, they wrote.
Material related to the Hong Kong court’s consent order was provided to Holmes in a sealed envelope. But some terms of the order seemed to prevent it being seen by anyone except the Hong Kong court, Meng and HSBC, Holmes said.
The sealed envelope “puts the [BC] court in a very awkward position … one doesn’t go into a sealed envelope to find the authority to open it”, said Holmes.
After receiving agreement from both sides, Holmes said the material – which has already been redacted – should be put on the record but subjected to a publication ban.
The forthcoming material, which Peck called “likely highly relevant”, would relate to the relationship between Huawei and HSBC and two subsidiaries – Skycom, through which Huawei did business in Iran, and a shell company called Canicula – he said.
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“This could be of great value to the final decision in this case,” Peck added. The material would be “copious” but it would be reviewed by his team in a “focused and expeditious manner”, Peck promised.
“No one here desires to adjourn this case for an adjournment’s sake,” said Peck, calling the requested three-month delay “short in the context of this case” and noting that Meng’s behaviour forming the basis of the charges had occurred in 2013.
That was a reference to a meeting between Meng and a HSBC banker in a Hong Kong teahouse, at which she delivered a PowerPoint presentation about Huawei’s Iran business.
Peck said his team had already received a first batch of the HSBC documents, with another batch due on Tuesday and more within six weeks.
Holmes asked if Peck had considered proceeding with the existing April 26-May 14 court dates, then asking to reopen the hearings if demanded by the new documents. The judge said she had not planned to issue any decisions immediately upon the conclusion of the three weeks in question.
But Peck said there was a risk of “throwing away time” on arguments that would need significant amendment later.
Government lawyer Frater told Holmes the eleventh-hour delay request was unacceptable.
“My lady, this process must come to a conclusion. Extradition hearings are supposed to be expeditious,” he said.
He told Holmes that she had no way of knowing what was in the HSBC material, and only the word of Meng’s and Huawei’s lawyers that it would be relevant and delivered soon.
“They do not know what is in these documents and they do not know when they are going to get them,” Frater said.
As for the Hong Kong settlement, Frater said it was “inexplicable” that HSBC had agreed to provide the material, considering that the bank had “won on every point” in a prior attempt to secure the material through the British courts. But in Hong Kong, HSBC had acquiesced to Huawei “for reasons known only to themselves”.
Regarding the risk posed by Covid-19, Frater said his team was willing to take whatever steps the court deemed necessary, such as by conducting them entirely remotely.
In reply, Peck denied seeking to protract the case unreasonably. “It’s not a runaway train by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
Holmes adjourned the hearing until Wednesday afternoon, when she will deliver her decision on the application.
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