A B.C. Supreme Court judge will deliver a highly anticipated ruling next week that could spell the end of attempts to extradite Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States.
On Thursday, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes told Crown prosecutors and Meng’s defence team that she will release her findings next Wednesday on the issue of so-called “double criminality” — the question of whether the offence the U.S. has accused Meng of committing would be considered a crime if it had happened in Canada.
Meng, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer as well as the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, is accused of defrauding banks by lying about the telecommunication giant’s control of a subsidiary suspected of violating American sanctions against Iran.
Prosecutors claim those banks then placed themselves at risk of fines, prosecution and the loss of reputation by relying on Meng’s alleged lies to continue providing financial services to Huawei.
A possible end to the case?
Holmes will give her decision to the defence team, the Crown, the Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice in the two hours before releasing them to the public.
The verdict could be momentous.
If Meng wins, she would be free to return to China, barring attempts to keep her in Canada if the Crown decides to appeal.
If she loses, Holmes still has to hear arguments on allegations that Canadian authorities violated Meng’s rights at the time of her arrest, before delivering a final ruling on the question of extradition.
Meng is expected to be in court for the release of the double-criminality judgment, but Holmes said she won’t have to make an appearance if the lawyers decide one is not necessary.
Regardless, the proceedings will occur in a very different setting to the one in which arguments over double criminality occurred in January, two months before COVID-19 altered nearly every aspect of Canadian life, including the courts.
Only 27 members of the media will be allowed to attend the in-person release of the decision in order to maintain physical distancing mandated by B.C. health authorities.
At the hearing in January, dozens of reporters from around the world packed shoulder to shoulder into the largest courtroom in the downtown Vancouver courthouse to hear the arguments for and against extradition.
A crime in Canada?
The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Meng with bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The 48-year-old was arrested at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1, 2018, on a stopover from Hong Kong to a conference in Argentina.
She is living under house arrest in one of two multi-million dollar homes she owns in Vancouver.
As part of a $10-million bail agreement, she wears a GPS monitoring bracelet on her left ankle and is trailed everywhere by a team of security guards.
During the double-criminality hearing, Meng’s lawyers argued the whole case comes down to economic sanctions the U.S. reimposed against Iran in 2018 when it left an international deal meant to stall the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.
Canada doesn’t have those same sanctions and so, the defence claims, Meng’s alleged lies would be harmless north of the border because a bank in Canada wouldn’t risk anything by dealing with a company that did business in Iran.
But the Crown argued that the case was one of fraud, plain and simple, and that the issue of sanctions was essentially a red herring.
They say that the issue of foreign sanctions should only be considered as a means to understand the context of the risks that HSBC would be taking by providing finance to a company on the wrong side of U.S. law.
A political pawn?
The case has caused a serious rift in the relationship between the U.S. and China.
China has made no secret of its displeasure with Canada for acting at the behest of the U.S. to arrest Meng.
Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China within days of Meng’s arrest and have been imprisoned ever since, accused of gathering state secrets and intelligence for foreign forces.
China has also targeted Canadian shipments of canola and meat.
In addition to legal troubles facing both Meng and the company itself, Huawei has been the subject of ongoing disputes with the U.S., which accuses the company of stealing trade secrets.
The U.S. has placed Huawei on its “Entity List,” which effectively bars American companies from selling components to Huawei without government approval.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic underway, the U.S. has moved to block shipments of semiconductors to Huawei from global chipmakers.
Meng has argued she is being used as a political pawn, citing comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who said shortly after her arrest that he would intervene in the case if it might secure a better trade deal with China.
If the Crown wins the double criminality decision, Meng will have a chance to make that case later this year, although COVID-19 related restrictions on court proceedings and questions around privilege associated with government documents have threatened to delay what was originally supposed to be an expedited timeline.