(CN) — The Canadian border guard who handed over Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s phone passwords to police “went white” when he realized what he’d done, his superior testified as the U.S. seeks to extradite the Chinese telecom executive to face fraud charges..
On the stand today in Vancouver, Nicole Goodman, the Canada Border Services Agency’s chief of passenger operations at Vancouver Airport, told the court that she hadn’t heard of Huawei until the day before Meng’s arrest on Dec. 1, 2018. However, she soon learned enough to realize that it was going to be a high-profile case with political implications and considerable media interest.
“I didn’t know anything about Huawei at the time. I never heard of it in my life,” she said.
Under questioning from Crown Prosecutor Diba Majzub at the British Columbia Supreme Court, Goodman told the court how she oversaw CBSA officers Sanjit Dhillon and Scott Kirkland, who initially examined Meng and placed her phones in special mylar bags to prevent remote wiping. The court earlier heard from Kirkland how he made the “heart-wrenching” mistake of handing over Meng’s electronic device passwords on a piece of paper to Canadian police in breach of privacy laws.
In a debrief meeting after Meng’s arrest with other CBSA officers, Goodman said that Kirkland was sitting opposite from her at a table.
“One of my main focuses was information sharing, just being a previous intel officer and my enforcement background especially on the customs side, when other entities are engaged I’m very cautious about information sharing. That’s always been drilled into me since I was an officer,” Goodman testified. “I just wanted to make sure that there was no information that was shared, and while I was having that discussion, I remember it vividly, because Kirkland was — we were at a boardroom table, he was directly across from me — and as I was having that discussion with the team, I just saw like, he just went white and seemed distressed.”
“That’s when he had told me that he had an epiphany that he had this piece of paper that had Ms. Meng’s passwords on it, and he doesn’t know where it is, he wasn’t sure if he had left it on the table or with the devices or if he had handed it all over to the RCMP,” she continued. “I just said ‘you either did or you didn’t, I need to know what’s happened here’ because obviously I have concerns that’s CBSA information and we shouldn’t be sharing that information”
Kirkland’s reaction in the meeting made her believe the action was “a 100% accidental,” and Goodman defended his record as a border guard.
“He’s a very upstanding officer, very talented,” Goodman told the court. “I wouldn’t question whether that’s a deliberate action on his part.”
Days later, Kirkland said that the passwords “may” have been handed over along with the electronic devices but he didn’t know for sure.
Meng’s lawyers have continually seized upon law enforcement and border guards’ actions surrounding the initial questioning and later arrest, claiming they were improperly collecting evidence on behalf of the FBI, zeroing in on email chains, phone records, notes, and other communications between border guards, Mounties, and the FBI.
Meng is on house arrest in Vancouver, where she owns two luxury homes. She’s fighting her extradition to the U.S., where she faces fraud charges in connection with a 2013 meeting where she’s alleged to have lied to an HSBC executive about a Huawei subsidiary’s dealing in Iran, which allegedly ran afoul of American sanctions.
Meng’s lawyers have claimed their client’s rights were violated when border guards examined her for several hours, despite the arrest warrant commanding her “immediate arrest.” Moreover, they claim law enforcement and border guards abused their authority in order to seize and search items without judicial authorization to gather evidence for the FBI.
While she’s denied the charges, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that U.S. authorities and Meng are in negotiations for a potential plea agreement for deferred prosecution should she admit wrongdoing, which she reportedly resisted.
The hearings continue this week with court time scheduled well into the first half of 2021.