Key witness in Huawei CFO’s arrest declines to testify in Canada court

Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves court during a lunch break in Vancouver
Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves court during a lunch break in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada November 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier

November 17, 2020

By Tessa Vikander

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – A key witness involved in the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou two years ago has decided not to testify in the Canadian court as part of Meng’s ongoing witness cross-examination, the court heard on Monday.

Meng arrived back in the British Columbia Supreme Court on Monday as her U.S. extradition hearing resumed. Her lawyers are fighting to establish that Meng’s rights were violated during the events leading up to her arrest.

Her lawyers called the refusal of a senior Canadian police officer to testify in court “concerning.”

Meng, 48, was arrested in December 2018 at Vancouver International Airport by Canadian police, on a warrant from the United States. She is facing charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC <HSBA.L> about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran, causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions.

Meng has said she is innocent and is fighting the extradition from under house arrest in Vancouver, where she owns a home in one of Canada’s most expensive neighborhoods.

On Monday defense lawyer Richard Peck told the court one of the key witnesses, Staff Sergeant Ben Chang with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), would not be testifying after seeking counsel from a lawyer.

According to court documents, Chang, who is now retired, allegedly sent details of Meng’s electronic devices to the FBI. Chang denied the allegation in an affidavit submitted to courts.

Peck told the court Chang’s refusal to testify is “a matter that will be of some concern,” adding that “there may be any number of consequences from his refusal to testify.”

HEARINGS RUN OVERTIME

Monday kicks off 10 days of testimony that are a continuation of hearings that were set to wrap up in early November but ran overtime, necessitating more hearings to be scheduled.

Lawyers for both Meng and the Canadian government will spend the week cross-examining Canadian law enforcement officers and border officials who were involved in the initial investigation and arrest of Meng.

Meng’s lawyers are fighting to get her extradition dismissed on the basis of alleged abuses of process, arguing they constitute violations of her civil rights laid out in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the first week of hearings, prosecutors for the Canadian government tried to prove that Meng’s arrest was by the book and any lapses in due process should not impact the validity of her extradition.

The defence has argued CBSA officers should have delayed their examination of Meng and turned her over immediately to the RCMP, and that doing otherwise violated her rights.

On Monday, prosecutor Diba Majzub asked CBSA officer Sanjit Dhillon, who was involved with examining Meng, whether it was common for border officers to delay customs examination on non-Canadians.

“I’ve never seen a case where the examination was delayed in any way,” Dhillon said.

The extradition hearings are scheduled to wrap up in April 2021, though the potential for appeals mean the case could drag on for years.

Earlier on Monday, Huawei said in a statement the hearings had revealed “important information” about Meng’s arrest, adding the company “continues to have great confidence in both Meng’s innocence and the integrity of the Canadian judicial system.”

Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing became rocky following Meng’s arrest. Soon after her detention, China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on espionage charges.

(Reporting Tessa Vikander in Vancouver; Writing by Moira Warburton; Editing by Denny Thomas, Leslie Adler, Nick Zieminski and Lincoln Feast)