VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CN) — Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou returned to a Vancouver courtroom Monday, kicking off a second set of hearings into her abuse of process allegations against Canadian law enforcement who arrested her at Vancouver's airport nearly two years ago on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Meng’s lawyer Richard Peck said over the next five days the court will hear from four or five witnesses — which were requested by the defense and produced by the Crown — detailing the circumstances of Meng’s arrest and detention by the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in December 2018.
The United States accuses Meng of defrauding HSBC during a PowerPoint presentation in Hong Kong in 2013, given to assuage the bank’s fears of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran by doing business in U.S. dollars with a Huawei affiliate known as Skycom. Court proceedings in her extradition fight are expected to continue well into 2021.
The hearing kicked off with the testimony of RCMP Constable Winston Yep, a member of the force’s foreign-domestic liaison unit which handles foreign requests under mutual legal assistance treaties. Yep described how his unit handles an average of 5 to 10 requests a month from various foreign agencies including the FBI, the DEA — both of which have liaison officers stationed in Vancouver — as well as the Secret Service, Homeland Security and Interpol. The arrest process for extradition warrants, Yep said, wasn’t much different from other arrests and information shared with foreign law enforcement doesn’t include subjects’ personal information.
“We generally don’t share personal information,” he said. “It’s a privacy issue.”
Under questioning by Crown lawyer John Gibb-Carsley, Yep testified he was the lead officer on the extradition request for Meng, with whom he wasn’t familiar, though he knew Huawei was a large international telecom company. Once he found out Meng, the company’s CFO, was the subject of the request, he said he knew “it was a high-profile matter, so I contacted my supervisor.”
Gibb-Carsley asked Yep what he thought of the U.S. extradition request’s provision to seize Meng’s electronic devices and place them in faraday bags to prevent remote data erasure.
“That’s something the Americans wanted, and we carried out that request,” Yep said. “It was part of the arrest process.”
Gibb-Carsley’s questions focused on the timeline of events leading up to Meng’s arrest, asking about meetings and communications between officers and different agencies and whether Yep was struck by anything unusual about the extradition warrant. In addition, Gibb-Carsley asked what Yep believed was meant by the word “immediately” in the arrest warrant for the embattled telecom executive.
The police officer, with the help of his notes from the time, said he thought it meant as soon as it was “practical” and safe to do so, taking into account officer and public safety since they didn’t know who Meng was travelling with.
“We don’t just rush in to arrest somebody,” he said, “just for everyone’s safety.”
“Did you treat this warrant differently?” Gibb-Carsley asked.
“No,” Yep replied.
After the lunch break, Yep said he never asked or heard any of his colleagues ask the Canada Border Services Agency to probe Meng for information during her immigration examination, and said he was “just sitting around” as he and a fellow officer waited for border guards to finish the immigration screening.
“I did not give CBSA any direction what to ask Ms. Meng,” Yep said. “We left it up to them to do their process … We let them do their job.”
His job, Yep said, was to execute the warrant, arrest Meng, inform her of her rights, and then give her a chance to contact a lawyer and the Chinese consulate.
“Ms. Meng was cooperative, I think she was surprised at first,” Yep said. “It went smooth,” adding that he handcuffed her in front rather than from behind as usual because she was so cooperative.
“Why handcuff her at all?” Gibb-Carsley asked.
“That’s just the arrest process,” Yep replied.
Later, Gibb-Carsley asked Yep whether he or any of his fellow police officers shared any information about Meng or her electronic devices with U.S. law enforcement. Yep said he hadn’t, reiterating that there was no “direction” given to border agents to probe her for information.
Under cross-examination from Meng’s lawyer Richard Peck, Yep explained that the idea of arresting Meng on the plane was discarded for potential safety concerns and because it was the Canada Border Services Agency’s jurisdiction.
“We wanted to respect CBSA,” Yep said. “it’s their jurisdiction …You can’t go on the plane and just pick her off the plane.”
Peck questioned whether Yep’s safety concerns were genuine, asking Yep about Meng’s age and the description of her female travel companion.
“Was this a real concern of yours?” Peck asked.
“Sure,” Yep said. “If something happened, if she puts up a fight, we may end up having to use physical force,” which would’ve put other passengers’ and officers’ safety at risk, he added. Yep said Meng could have had bodyguards and countersurveillance on the FBI in Hong Kong, which tipped off Canadian law enforcement about the flight and ultimate destination in Mexico with just a short layover in Vancouver. Even though correspondence about Meng’s travel plans provided by the FBI didn’t mention bodyguards or countersurveillance, Yep said “you can’t rule it out.”
Peck also questioned how genuine the concern was about Meng potentially fleeing or evading border guards, though Yep said that possibility was raised by his superior, not him. The defense attorney then walked Yep through notes from the day before and the day of Meng’s arrest, highlighting their lack of detail. Yep took long pauses between answers as he flipped through a binder full of case-related documents, leading Peck to ask if the officer had reviewed his material before the hearing.
Peck circled back to Yep’s claims of safety concerns, saying the officer didn’t believe for “one second” that Meng posed any danger to him should she be arrested on the plane.
“You didn’t think for one moment that a 46-year-old executive would come at you with a knife on a plane,” Peck said.
Yep answered, “I don’t know her. I don’t know what she’s capable of. We always have to keep our guards up. We don’t want to be arresting somebody and things go out of hand which they potentially could.”
Court adjourned for the day and will resume Tuesday morning.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.