Canadian Border Guard Denies Helping FBI in Questioning of Huawei Executive

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is pictured in this Jan. 17, 2020 file photo. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

(CN) — A Canadian border guard involved in the initial questioning of embattled Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou staunchly denied that he intended to gather evidence that could be of use to the FBI as Meng’s lawyers continued their attack on the Canada Border Services Agency’s handling of the telecom executive upon her arrival in Vancouver in December 2018.

Hearings into abuse of process allegations levelled at Canadian authorities by Meng continued in British Columbia Supreme Court this week as witness testimony spilled over from last month, where court heard testimony from a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a superintendent with the CBSA involved with Meng’s airport examination and eventual arrest on a U.S. extradition warrant for fraud charges leveled in New York. 

Meng, who denies the allegations, is accused of defrauding an HSBC executive in a 2013 meeting in Hong Kong spurred by Reuters’ reports about a Huawei subsidiary known as SkyCom running afoul of American sanctions on Iran. 

In testimony Wednesday, Meng’s lawyer Mona Duckett grilled CBSA Superintendent Sanjit Dhillon over his questioning of Meng after she was brought in for a customs and immigration exam by the border agency in the hours before her arrest by the RCMP.

Duckett’s questions focused on what she asserted are dubious national security and espionage concerns border guards used to probe Meng about Huawei’s dealings in Iran. 

She claimed notes and statutory declarations made by border guards were lacking crucial details about the fateful interaction that would set off an international incident that put Canada and China on a diplomatic collision course.

“You didn’t ask any question about where in the world her company sold products because you had no interest in anything other than the United States,” Duckett said to Dhillon on the stand.

“I didn’t have anything in my mind about the United States regarding my questioning of her, despite the fact that her company can’t sell their products there for security concerns,” Dhillon replied. 

Earlier, the court heard how he’d spent about 10 minutes on an open-source online search of Meng, which brought him to Huawei’s Wikipedia page, which contained a “controversy” section mentioning U.S. sanctions.

“You went directly to the United States in your questioning, I suggest,” Duckett said.

“Because her company can’t sell products there because of a security and espionage concern,” Dhillon said.

“And contrary to what you told this court under oath on November 16, you did not ask her where in the world her company sold products,” Duckett continued. “You didn’t record it anywhere.”

“I did ask her that, but I didn’t record it in my statutory declaration that day because I didn’t consider it to be significant,” the border agent replied.

“And if you’re making an inquiry about Canadian espionage, that’s much more relevant than a question about whether they sold in the U.S., isn’t it?” Duckett asked.

“I’m not sure what you’re asking me,” Dhillon said. “If there’s a company that can’t sell products in the United States because of a security concern, maybe the security concern hasn’t been determined yet in Canada.”

Duckett then pointed out that the Wikipedia page also mentions Huawei doing business in other sanctioned countries including Syria, North Korea and Venezuela, all of which the border guard didn’t ask Meng about that day. 

She proposed that Meng was not pulled into an examination by border guards to determine her admissibility to Canada, but rather to probe her for information about Huawei’s dealings in Iran and possible sanctions violations in an effort to aid the FBI.

“Are you aware that not one CBSA officer’s notes or statutory declarations make any reference to national security in this case?” She said. “My proposition is that you did not question her about admissibility issues, but you questioned her about the topic of the U.S. warrant which you knew from the meeting from the police was related to Iran and sanctions.”

“I don’t know what’s contained in other officers’ notes or statutory declarations. I only know what’s in mine.” he said. “I went to question her about admissibility. I asked questions about why her products weren’t sold in the U.S. in relation to a security concern.”

“Your only intent in this matter, Officer Dhillon, was to gather some evidence that might be of use to the FBI,” Duckett said.

“No,” Dhillon replied.

After a short break, CBSA officer Sowmith Katragadda took questions from Crown prosecutors about his time with the agency and his actions on the day of Meng’s arrest. 

Katragadda told the court of initial confusion surrounding Meng’s immigration and residency status in Canada, though he was eventually satisfied that she was a “foreign national” that was subject to both a customs and immigration examination upon her arrival in the country. 

He said he felt it wasn’t the border agency’s “place” to be involved in any extradition matters, so he said it was appropriate to distinguish between their procedures and those of Canadian law enforcement.

“It was my view that the customs and immigration process should be kept separate from the extradition process,” Katragadda told the court. “I wanted to be clear for when it got to court.”

Katragadda’s testimony continues Thursday, with hearings scheduled into next week for additional witness testimony. The court heard on Monday that one scheduled witness, retired RCMP Staff Sergeant Ben Chang, has refused to testify on advice from outside counsel.

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