Lawyers Focus on Trump Comments at Huawei Executive’s Extradition Hearing

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office with a security guard in Vancouver, British Columbia, Dec. 12, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CN) — Canadian prosecutors fired back at Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s legal team’s claims of unfairness in her extradition hearing Thursday, arguing that comments made by former President Donald Trump did not affect the hearing.

The British Columbia Supreme Court continued to hear arguments over evidence and abuse of process allegations related to the United States’ bid to have her face fraud charges in New York.

“The facts relied on by my friends have in no way affected the fairness of this hearing,” prosecutor Robert Frater told the court Thursday morning. “They’ve had a hearing which has observed and continues to observe the highest standard of fairness.”

Frater disputed the notion that the case was a “politically motivated prosecution,” based on allegedly “shocking, egregious, corrosive, poisonous” comments made by Trump. The court heard from Meng’s lawyers on Wednesday who argued that Trump had undermined the extradition process by publicly commenting on the extradition bid in relation to U.S.-China trade negotiations.

Frater called the defense’s characterizations of Trump’s comments as “adjectives in search of facts to support them.”

Moreover, he said the arguments of Meng’s lawyers are inappropriate to bring into the court proceeding and should be made to Canada’s Minister of Justice should Meng be ordered extradited, since the Minister is ultimately responsible for the decision to commit the embattled tech executive. That decision, Frater said, is also subject to a court challenge by way of judicial review in federal court.

“If you have an argument to make about improperly motivated prosecutions by the requesting state, the person to address that to is the minister,” Frater said.

Frater said the personal circumstances of an accused in extradition cases are indeed worthy of consideration by an extradition judge. However, he told Justice Heather Holmes that she “should consider the position of the accused in the sense of the impact of the [president’s] comments on someone who is vulnerable, powerless, indigent,” rather than someone who can afford to hire “battalions of lawyers” to fight on her behalf.

The fraud charges Meng faces, Frater said, involve alleged misrepresentations related to hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and credit facilities and “those must be regarded as serious charges.” Even if there are weaknesses in the U.S. case, “having these charges heard on their merits would be a triumph of the rule of law.” Whether acquitted or convicted, Frater said, “justice is served.” 

“Everyone in this courtroom knows that the elephant in the room in this case has always been the geopolitical winds that swirl around it,” Frater said. “With respect, we urge you to focus on the facts and the law and leave the politics to the politicians.”

After lunch, Meng’s defense lawyer Eric Gottardi urged the court to accept affidavit evidence of an American legal expert, which he said lays out why “the president isn’t an ordinary public official” and the “prejudicial effect” of his public comments on the case.

Gottardi said it was “simply not correct” to claim they were improperly bringing allegations of political motivations behind the charges. He said the defense was aware such arguments were more appropriate for the “political phase” of the case.  

But he said Trump’s comments “converted this case into a leverage point” in a trade dispute with a powerful competitor. He also disputed the prosecution’s claim that the defense had lost its “ace card” when Trump wasn’t reelected. 

It was clear, Gottardi said, that Trump’s comments on Meng’s case were serious enough to prompt both Canadian and American politicians to quickly condemn them as inappropriate and not “anodyne” or “meaningless” as prosecutors suggest.

“We knew that the damage was already done,” Gottardi said. “The presumption of good faith doesn’t easily seem to apply to those kinds of actions.”

He said the attorney general of Canada has ignored the “grotesque power imbalance” between the president of the United States and his client. As well, Gottardi said that no extradition case in the history of the country has ever involved a head of state commenting on the proceeding.

“It’s never happened in our history,” Gottardi said, adding that statements eventually made by President Joe Biden can hardly be seen as a “repudiation” of Trump’s repeated admissions that Meng’s case would be leveraged in trade talks with China.

“The leader, we call him the CEO of the requesting state, a very party to these proceedings, made public comments about interfering with an extradition case for economic purposes. I say that could never be acceptable or be in harmony with the rule of law,” Gottardi said. “This is, in my respectful submission, the clearest of cases and this court… should disassociate itself and our entire system from what the president proposed happen and our prime minister agreed.”

The hearing continues Friday.

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