VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The refusal of a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer to testify at an extradition hearing for a senior executive for Chinese communication giant Huawei is “unprecedented” and should bring into doubt the credibility of his written affidavit saying he didn’t share information with the FBI, defense lawyers said Monday.
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer who is also the daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested at the Vancouver airport in late 2018 at the request of the U.S., which wants her extradited to face fraud charges. The arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise.
The U.S. accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng committed fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran. Much of the case centers around an August 2013 PowerPoint presentation made to an HSBC executive during a lunch in Hong Kong.
Meng’s lawyers claim her extraction should be halted because of an abuse of process, saying Canada Border Services Agency officers detained and questioned her without a lawyer, seized her electronic devices and put them in special bags to prevent wiping, and compelled her to give up the passcodes before her official arrest.
The defense says it has the right to challenge a written affidavit from former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sgt. Ben Chang that he didn’t share information taken from Meng’s electronic devices with the FBI.
Chang, who now lives in Macau, has hired a lawyer, and refuses to testify. The RCMP destroyed all Chang’s emails and text messages once he retired.
Defense lawyer Scott Fenton said, “there is a certain shock value in the notion a senior police officer would in effect refuse to be cross examined.”
Chang is the “most important witness” when it comes to the issue of collecting and sharing information with the FBI, Fenton said. His refusal to testify “directly impacted our ability to cross examine him on the issue of whether the numbers were shared.”
Fenton said Associate Chief justice Heather Holmes should place no reliance on Chang’s affidavit. She should also take an “adverse inference” that had Chang appeared, his testimony “would not have supported the position taken in his affidavit that he did not send the electronic serial number information.”
The destroying of Chang’s information after he retired occurred even after defense had put the Canadian attorney general and RCMP on notice about the potential relevance of the material, said Fenton.
“This is evidence of unacceptable negligence,” he said.
Meng attended the hearing no longer wearing a large bandage covering the middle finger on her right hand and with a monitoring bracelet on her ankle. She sat beside an interpreter while reading from a large black binder and took sips from a pink water bottle.
Meng’s lawyers will be back in court next month arguing that the U.S. is exceeding the limits of its jurisdiction by prosecuting a foreign citizen for actions that took place in Hong Kong and that Canada was misled by the U.S. about the strength of its case.
Earlier this month, her lawyers said comments made by then U.S. President Donald Trump turned Meng into a “bargaining chip” and “co-opted the extradition process.”
Soon after Meng’s arrest, China arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in apparent retaliation and charged them with spying. Both have remained in custody with limited access to visits by Canadian consular officials.
Kovrig appeared in a closed-door hearing Monday in Beijing. Canadian consular officials were barred from the proceedings which ended after about two hours with no verdict announced.
Spavor faced a closed-door hearing Friday in Dandong, China. No Canadian officers were allowed, and no verdict was announced.
Besides the arrest of Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oilseed. China also handed death sentences to four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.
Meng remains free on bail in Vancouver and is living in a mansion.