VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CN) – The Canadian government said Friday it will begin formal extradition proceedings against Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, whom the United States has accused of violating trade sanctions on Iran.
“Canada is a country governed by the rule of law. Extradition in Canada is guided by the Extradition Act, international treaties and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which enshrines constitutional principles of fairness and due process,” the announcement states. “The decision follows a thorough and diligent review of the evidence in this case. The department is satisfied that the requirements set out by the Extradition Act for the issuance of an authority to proceed have been met and there is sufficient evidence to be put before an extradition judge for decision.”
“We are disappointed that the minister of justice has decided to issue an authority to proceed in the face of the political nature of the U.S. charges and where the president of the United States has repeatedly stated that he would interfere in Ms. Meng’s case if he thought it would assist the U.S negotiations with China over a trade deal,” Meng’s attorneys said.
“We are also concerned that the minister has approved an authority to proceed in circumstances where the conduct alleged to be an offense in the U.S. would not be an offense in Canada. This is an affront to the foundational extradition principle of double criminality.”
Federal authorities in the U.S. say Meng misled financial institutions in an effort to dupe them into clearing transactions that violated trade sanctions against Iran. Huawei vehemently denies the charges, but remains a major player in the race to build emerging 5G networks to the dismay of intelligence agencies who assert the company can be used, and is used, as a spying tool of China’s authoritarian communist government.
Canada had few choices when it comes to extraditing Meng – the easy way, the hard way, or to simply delay, according to extradition attorney Gary Botting, who is advising Meng’s legal team.
On the eve of the March 1 deadline, Botting said in a phone interview that ordering extradition hearings to proceed would be “a foolish thing to do,” especially for Canada’s newly minted justice minister and attorney general since his predecessor and the Trudeau government are now engulfed in a made-in-Canada corporate corruption row over Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
At stake in the SNC-Lavalin case are 9,000 jobs and the Trudeau government’s future in Quebec, and Botting sees many parallels between the handling of Meng’s case and its international implications and the domestic turmoil and consequences of prosecuting SNC-Lavalin for its alleged international misdeeds.
Both cases, Botting said, are “connected to discretion of various kinds,” whether it’s executive, ministerial, prosecutorial or judicial.
“Even though Trudeau has said that we must obey the rule of law, we are a country of the rule of law, the fact is that it’s not before the courts yet, so judicial discretion isn’t in question,” he said. “Trudeau is kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. It also applies to the Meng case.”
Issuing an authority to proceed with Meng’s extradition, Botting said, could have wide-reaching consequences, setting off a potentially years-long process that would be “hell.”
“If the authority to proceed is issued by the minister of justice, there’s no end of grief that we’re going to have for the next 10 years. If he refuses to issue it, that’s the end of the story because America frankly doesn’t seem to be that interested,” he said. “Sure, the Southern District of New York is interested in prosecuting Huawei but it’s no great skin off anybody’s nose if Canada says, ‘No we’re not going to send Ms. Meng down to suffer prosecution down there and possibly a sentence of 20 years.’ Anybody can see that she would become a political prisoner in effect, and certainly China would make that case. “
Moreover, Botting said he believes the original decision to arrest Meng on a provisional arrest warrant on suspicion that she misled banks about Huawei’s dealings in Iran was made “not knowing really who she is, and what the implications are.”
“Canada has a reputation for processing extradition cases fairly quickly and they got stuck in this trap,” Botting said. “They have to issue a provisional arrest warrant because that’s what the treaty says, so they know that Canada’s between a rock and a hard place, so they issued it.
“The easiest solution, of course, is for somebody in a position of power in the United States – for example, the attorney general – to convince the acting prosecutors down there in the Southern District of New York to put a stroke through her name in the indictment. That would be the easiest way; literally with the stroke of pen, it would be gone.”
In addition, Meng’s arrest and possible prosecution are an obvious bargaining chip in U.S.-China trade negotiations, while the American government could take advantage of the “screen” created by the explosive testimony of Michael Cohen to dial back the pursuit of Meng and still proceed against the company itself.
“This is where, again, executive discretion takes on a major role in the United States, which is parallel to what Trudeau and company were trying to do up here” in the SNC-Lavalin case, Botting said, with the Canadian government under fire for pressuring former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to proceed with a deferred prosecution of the international engineering firm. Prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, he said, could cost thousands of jobs and cause the company to move out of Canada.
“This is the downside that the cabinet is trying to avoid. And in the United States, do we want a treaty with China or don’t we? All we have to do is let this woman off the hook, who basically may or may not have been a signatory to documents, but she hasn’t been proved guilty of anything, therefore she’s innocent until proved guilty,” he said.
“We’re not talking about judicial process, we’re talking about pre-judicial, the notion that a prosecutor can decide whether or not he’s going to prosecute this case and you have to look at all the consequences.”
The American government, meanwhile, could cancel the prosecution and extradition request as part of a treaty with China, while “the stakes are extremely high and China’s telling us that in no uncertain terms,” he said.
“It’s of no consequence whatsoever to the American people whether Ms. Meng gets to go home or not,” Botting said. “Huawei is being put on trial.”
Meng’s next court date is set for March 6 in Vancouver.