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Committal phase concludes in Huawei CFO extradition case

Months of hearings into whether there's enough evidence to hold Meng Wanzhou over for trial — let alone extradite her to the United States to face fraud charges — have come to an end at last.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CN) — Canadian prosecutors accused Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers of engaging in a “victim blaming exercise” by portraying HSBC Bank as the so-called author of its own misfortune when it cleared transactions through its American subsidiary for Huawei’s Iranian affiliate at the heart of the tech executive’s extradition case.

Both the defense and prosecution wrapped up committal arguments — in which a judge will decide if there's even enough evidence to hold Meng over for trial — in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver this week, as lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada urged Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes Wednesday to send Meng stateside to face fraud charges in New York.

Prosecutor Robert Frater told Holmes Wednesday that Meng’s lawyers understated the evidence against her and “frequently” referred to case law that opposes their own position. He said the defense was “describing the law as they wish it to be, not as it is.”

The court heard earlier from Meng’s lawyers that nothing in her now-infamous 2013 PowerPoint presentation to an HSBC executive in response to Reuters articles about a Huawei subsidiary’s dealings in Iran could be causally linked to the bank’s potential violation of U.S. sanctions. But Frater on Wednesday warned the judge against accepting such a position.

“It is enough that the bank was induced to act to its detriment by the defendant’s conduct,” Frater said. “The consequences of accepting such a submission would be to upend the encouraging honesty in commercial dealings goal of fraud. Under my friends’ view of the law, as long as you do not lie in a very specific way that amounts to a specific inducement to do a specific thing, you are free to tell all the fibs you want. We say that the law demands more.”

Frater said the “dominant message” in the PowerPoint presentation was to falsely assure the bank that it faced no risk when dealing with Huawei and its affiliates in Iran.

“You have to give someone the information that allows them to avoid the risk,” he said. “We say that there is a strong prima facie case here that Ms. Meng was dishonest and there was a deprivation to HSBC in any of the three ways that we’ve suggested. We say that we’ve met our burden and she should be committed.”

On Tuesday, Meng’s defense team concluded their committal submissions, urging Holmes to let Meng go due to an “evidentiary vacuum” that any misrepresentations to the bank carried tangible or quantifiable risk of loss. Meng’s lawyer Scott Fenton told the court that evidence of risk to the bank’s reputation is “entirely hypothetical,” while he claimed there was no evidence in the U.S. records of the case that Huawei or its affiliate Skycom ever actually violated sanctions on Iran.

In closing Tuesday, Meng’s lawyer Eric Gottardi told the judge that no jury could convict his client of fraud based on the evidence, calling the case both “implausible” and “manifestly unreliable” and based on an “inaccurate” evidentiary record.

“As such, we would say fundamental justice demands that Ms. Meng not be extradited,” Gottardi said. “We would ask you to discharge her.”

The hearing concluded Wednesday afternoon, but Justice Holmes did not indicate when she would render her decision. The parties agreed to hold a case management conference on Oct. 21.

Huawei Canada released a statement Wednesday afternoon after the hearings concluded, saying it was “confident in Ms. Meng’s innocence and has trusted the Canadian judicial system. Accordingly, Huawei has been supporting Ms. Meng’s pursuit of justice and freedom. We continue to do so today.”

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