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Extraditing 'Princess of Huawei' Meng Wanzhou to the US would 'embarass' Canada, lawyers claim

Margi Murphy
Huawei's chief financial office Meng Wanzhou leaves her house to attend court on Jan 20, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada - Getty Images North America

Extraditing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the US would “embarrass” Canada and undermine its autonomy, her lawyers have argued, kicking off the first day of a court case that has whipped up a geopolitical storm between China and the west. 

Lawyers acting for Ms Weng, the “Princess of Huawei” who has been under house arrest in Vancouver for more than a year, sought to convince a judge that charges laid against her by the US Justice Department would not stand up in Canada.

In deciding whether to surrender Ms Meng to the US, Judge Heather Holmes must decide whether the charges would constitute a crime if it occurred in Canada, under a principle called “double criminality” on which week’s hearing hangs.

The US accuses Ms Meng of breaking its sanctions against Iran and lying to HSBC bank in order to secure a loan by masquerading the origins of a Huawei affiliate in Iran's capital, Tehran. Canada does not restrict trade with Iran, but the prosecution argues that Ms Meng’s lie amounts to fraud.

Ms Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei and its chief financial officer, has become a symbol of the increasingly fractured relationship between the US and China, dragging a previously neutral Canada into the mix.

In the hearing, defence lawyer Richard Peck accused the US of undermining “Canada’s authority as a sovereign state” adding that it was a “fiction” to contend that the US had any personal interest in policing “private dealings between a private bank and a private citizen on the other side of the world”. 

A protester against China's imprisonment of Uighur people outside the courtroom on Jan 20 Credit: Mert Alper Dervis/Getty/Anadolu

The 47-year-old Ms Meng appeared serene in court even when proceedings were delayed to accommodate the heaving crowd of onlookers, who arrived at the high-technology, high-security court to peer at her from behind a glass wall. 

Ms Meng was arrested in a Vancouver airport in December 2018 and has spent more than a year reading and oil painting in a £4 million, six-bedroom mansion, one of the multiple properties she owns in Vancouver after posting a £6m bail. 

Shortly after her arrest, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians living in China on suspicion of espionage, in what some experts have characterised as a retaliation. Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor say they have endured hours of interrogation and are forced to sleep with the lights on.

Meanwhile Ms Meng, who has been photographed in designer clothes leaving her home and during pre-trial hearings, is tracked with around-the-clock surveillance and an ankle bracelet with an 11pm curfew over concerns she may follow in the footsteps of former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, who reportedly fled house arrest in Japan in a box placed in the luggage cabin of a passenger jet to Lebanon.

Members of the public and the media line up outside the court in Vancouver on Jan 20 Credit: Jeff Vinnick/Getty

China also hit back at Canada by restricting imports of pork and canola oil.

The trial comes as Britain decides whether to continue to give Huawei a role in its telecommunications networks. Huawei has made heavy investments in fifth generation wireless communications equipment, but has been accused of being a vehicle for Chinese state espionage.

US officials have warned that Huawei, which produces more smartphones than Apple, poses a security risk, and have advised the UK to reconsider any partnership. Meanwhile, Britain's National Cyber Security Centre has said that technicians can mitigate the risk by relying on several different providers within Britain’s networks.  

A decision on Huawei's role in Britain is expected later this month. The trial continues.