A Canada Border Services Agency officer who questioned Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport nearly two years ago will face more tough questions Wednesday as the Huawei executive’s lawyers continue to grill him about his supposed concerns over national security.
In tense cross examination Tuesday, CBSA Supt. Sanjit Dhillon insisted the border agency needed to conduct its own queries before Meng could have been turned over to RCMP — setting in motion the process that would have afforded her access to a lawyer.
He said his questions, combined with Meng’s “non-verbal behaviour” yielded information that could still form the basis of a legitimate investigation into whether Meng could remain in Canada — a process interrupted by her arrest and adjourned until the outcome of the extradition proceedings currently underway in B.C. Supreme Court.
The defence has rejected that assertion, suggesting that the real reason the CBSA examined Meng for three hours before she was arrested was so U.S. and Canadian authorities could use the agency’s extraordinary powers to question her without informing her she was wanted for fraud.
Defence lawyer Mona Duckett ridiculed Dhillon’s insistence that he acted properly.
“You had live national security concerns you say at the time that prevented you from immediately deferring and watching Ms. Meng go out in handcuffs with the RCMP?” she asked.
“Yes,” Dhillon replied.
“You were afraid she was going to commit some espionage in the detention centre?” Duckett asked.
“I don’t know,” Dhillon replied.
Charged with fraud and conspiracy
Dhillon is one of 10 RCMP and CBSA officers expected to give testimony at a hearing to gather evidence Meng’s lawyers hope will bolster their argument that the 48-year-old’s rights were violated at the time of her arrest.
The U.S. wants Meng extradited to New York, where she faces charges of fraud and conspiracy related to allegations she lied to an HSBC executive about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim HSBC relied on Meng’s alleged lies to continue a financial relationship with the telecommunications giant, placing the bank at risk of loss and prosecution.
Dhillon was overseeing the two CBSA officers who took Meng in for secondary examination after she stepped off a plane from Hong Kong on Dec. 1, 2018.
The defence claims the RCMP originally planned to board the plane to arrest Meng immediately, but somewhere along the line the plan changed to have the CBSA pick her up instead, seizing her electronic devices and questioning her for nearly three hours before she was arrested.
Questions about Huawei’s business in Iran
In a statutory declaration written on the day of Meng’s arrest, Dhillon said he asked Meng questions about Huawei’s business in Iran.
The statement was read into the court record on Tuesday.
“The subject was then asked, if her company sold products in countries that they should not. The subject appeared confused by this question. I rephrased the question and asked the subject if her company sold products or did business in Iran,” Dhillon wrote.
“The subject initially stated, ‘I don’t know.'”
Dhillon went on to write that he said he found it hard to believe the chief financial officer of a multi-billion dollar corporation wouldn’t know where they did business. He claimed Meng ultimately said her company had an office in Iran.
That part of Dhillon’s interaction with Meng is likely to be raised on Wednesday, as the officer failed to mention it during his questioning by Crown.
And when a prosecutor tried to return to the matter after moving on to another subject, Duckett objected, saying she would “deal” with what she called Dhillon’s contradictions.
Dhillon claimed that the subject of Iran came up through an “open source” query that he conducted by looking at a Wikipedia page on Huawei in the hours before Meng landed in Canada.
Although he knew of its existence, he said he never asked Meng about the warrant for her arrest or the charges that gave rise to it.
‘He wanted to know how the exam went’
Dhillon testified that the director of CBSA operations at the airport contacted him in the weeks after Meng’s arrest to ask about the article that gave rise to his questions.
“I provided him the article and also a notation of what I was specifically looking at in that article that guided my questioning,” Dhillon said.
“He wanted to know how the exam went and why we took the actions that we did. And also why I questioned her on these specific things.”
The evidence given by Dhillon and the other officers will form part of a hearing in February, where Meng’s lawyers plan to argue that the case should be tossed.
In addition to the alleged violations of her rights, the defence also claims that Meng is being used as a political pawn in the U.S. trade war with China and that the U.S. deliberately misled Canada about the strength of the case.
Meng has denied the charges against her.