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Meng Wanzhou case: Canada's lawyer mocks 'movie trailer' claim that Huawei CFO's rights were abused, as US extradition push continues amid trade war turmoil

Ian Young in Vancouver

Canadian government lawyers have laughed off claims that Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou's rights were abused when she was searched and questioned before her arrest at the request of the US at Vancouver airport last year, an event that triggered outrage from Beijing amid the US-China trade war.

Lawyers for Meng, who is currently in the midst of an eight-day evidence disclosure hearing as part of her battle to avoid extradition to the US, last week told Vancouver's British Columbia Supreme Court that Canadian border officers conducted an illegitimate "covert criminal investigation" into her when they interviewed her, searched her belongings and seized her electronic devices when she arrived at the airport on December 1.

Crown lawyer Robert Frater said on Monday that the behaviour of the officers who dealt with Meng was "not at all sinister", that there had been no attempt to cover up her treatment during her interrogation, and that a search of her belongings had not been made at the demand of the FBI.

"The trailer here delivers more than the movie delivers," he told the court.

Frater's remarks were watched by Meng, who attended in an all-white double-breasted suit-dress and Jimmy Choo stilettos, the latest in a series of striking designer outfits she has worn to her court hearings.

The presiding judge, Justice Heather Holmes, repeatedly interrupted and questioned the crown lawyers as they made their case, in a way that she did not with Meng's lawyers last week.

Meng's lawyers say Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers improperly delayed her arrest at the airport by three hours to conduct an improper search and "compelled" the executive to hand over the passwords of her electronic devices. That was in defiance of a court order that Meng be arrested "immediately", they say.

They also say that in doing so, the officers effectively performed a proxy investigation on behalf of the FBI before detaining her.

Frater denied that claim on Monday, saying that since it was recorded on video and audio and in notes, "It was hardly covert," adding that there was nothing inappropriate about the officers' behaviour, and that there had been "no unreasonable search, much less an abuse of process".

He also denied that there had been an attempt to cover up abusive treatment of Meng. Both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and CBSA carried out their duties in accordance with their mandate, he said.

"The conspiracy [about Meng's treatment] was non-existent ... and because the conspiracy was non-existent, there was nothing to cover up."

Although a CBSA officer's notes recorded that there would be an FBI request for Meng's electronic devices, Frater denied that this was, as argued by Meng's lawyers, unquestioningly accepted by the Canadian officers.

Meng's ankle monitor is seen as she arrives in court on Monday. Photo: Reuters alt=Meng's ankle monitor is seen as she arrives in court on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Meng's lawyers want Canadian authorities to release more documents. A revised submission revealed on Monday shows that the material being sought includes all documents relating to the coordination of the arrest, and all communications involving the Canadian Department of Justice and the US FBI about the arrest.

The crown lawyers, representing the US in the hearing, oppose the disclosure motion. Frater contends that his team has already gone above and beyond its requirements in providing such material.

Another crown lawyer said that the CBSA officers who searched Meng only did their jobs, and that their conduct was "normal and routine". This included the seizure of electronic devices and obtaining their passwords, he said.

He described to the court a previously undisclosed email, which he said showed that there was "no evidence of the CBSA bowing to the FBI's will". Frater added "we long ago gave them what they were legally entitled to ... there is nothing of value left".

Frater also outlined the efforts by government lawyers to satisfy the Meng team's ongoing requests for more documents. "[But] where we drew the line ... is not to provide more information on [people] who are simply passive receivers of email chains," said Frater.

"There is no air of reality to a planning meeting ... to discuss things that violate Ms Meng's right," Frater said, referring to the Meng team's interest in the RCMP-CBSA meeting on the day of Meng's arrest.

Echoing language used by colleague John Gibb-Carsley last week, Frater called it a "fishing expedition into waters where there is no evidence of any fish".

He likened it to a "conspiracy theory ... what we've got and what we've given them has not advanced their case an inch. What they're saying is 'Well, there must be something else.'"

He said: "Evidence of contact [between various Canadian officers] does not a conspiracy make ... this is simply fishing."

Meng leaves court with her security team during a lunch break in the hearing on Monday. Photo: Reuters alt=Meng leaves court with her security team during a lunch break in the hearing on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Frater described the legal benchmark for a court ordering the disclosure of more material, saying that the case being made must have an "air of reality" to it " but that "factually there's nothing to" the Meng team's requests.

He depicted Meng as having enjoyed great leeway to make her case, mounted by a "legal dream team" which had left no stone unturned, "maybe even the pebbles under the stones".

As Frater tried to continue his argument, Justice Holmes cut him off mid-sentence and broke the hearing for lunch. The hearing was attended by Huawei PR staff who handed out business cards to reporters during the breaks.

Earlier in the day, Frater had dismissed claims by Meng's lawyers that the absence of notes by CBSA officers who attended a meeting with RCMP officers on the morning of Meng's arrest implied a cover-up, since the presence of the CBSA officers was included in the notes of the RCMP officers.

"As a cover up, it is a failure," he said. No CBSA notes on the meeting had been disclosed to Meng's lawyers because none existed, he said.

"That's what they [Meng's lawyer] have: a nothing. The fact of not taking notes is a nothing," Frater said.

Similarly, evidence of communication between US and Canadian authorities about the case simply reflected the nature of extradition as a "state to state" process, he said. "It can't come as any surprise" to see the sharing of information, said Frater. "It's a necessity, not a suspicious circumstance ... it advances their case not at all".

Frater said that a CCTV video of Meng's search at the airport, used last week by her team to suggest she had been improperly treated, had established only one thing " that at one stage a CBSA officer put down their notetaking pen.

"Without any trace of irony [they] called this 'chilling'," said Frater, instead describing the interactions captured by the video as "banal, innocuous and resplendent in their ordinariness".

Frater also mocked the grammar of Meng's legal submission, which argued that the procedures for Meng's arrest had been altered, and referred to "the First Plan". "That makes it more nefarious I suppose, if it's in capitals," he said.

Meng, 47, Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested on a stopover on her way from Hong Kong to Mexico. The US wants Meng to face trial for allegedly defrauding HSBC by misleading the bank about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.

The hearing is due to continue all week. Meng's formal extradition hearing is expected to begin in January and last until October or November 2020.

Meng's case has been a flashpoint in US-China relations. US President Donald Trump has previously suggested that he might intervene if it helped in the ongoing trade war, although the mercurial president's deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber policies, Robert Strayer, has since walked back that remark in an interview with the Post.

Her arrest also sent China-Canada relations into a tailspin. Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, have been charged with espionage in China in a move widely seen in Canada as retribution for Meng's arrest.

Meng, who was once a Canadian permanent resident, is currently free on bail, living in a C$13 million (US$9.8 million) home that is one of two properties she owns in Vancouver.

The hearing continues.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.