The extradition hearings in Canada for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, wanted on fraud charges in the United States, are set to continue until 2021, after Covid-19 threw scheduling for the complicated case into disarray.
At a hearing in Vancouver's Supreme Court on Wednesday, Meng's defence and the Canadian government lawyers representing US interests in the case jointly suggested that hearings be extended until early 2021.
Hearings in the case, which has drawn worldwide attention and battered China's relations with the US and Canada, had previously been set to last until October or November.
But the Covid-19 pandemic forced that schedule to be scrapped. British Columbia's Supreme Court halted normal operations in March as a pandemic precaution.
Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver on May 27. Photo: Reuters alt=Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver on May 27. Photo: Reuters
As a further precaution, Meng and both sets of lawyers attended Wednesday's hearing by phone, with journalists allowed to listen in.
Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes was in the Vancouver courtroom in person. The public gallery which had been packed during pre-pandemic hearings had just seven people in it, Holmes noted.
Government lawyer Robert Frater said: "We're looking at schedules that would bring the hearings to a close at the latest early in 2021."
He said however that "a somewhat aggressive schedule" would be needed to achieve this.
Holmes agreed to a joint submission that a proposed schedule be presented by both sets of lawyers at the next hearing, on June 15.
She also agreed to consider the appointment of an independent referee to arbitrate various disputes about the admissibility of evidence. Doing so would be a "tremendous efficiency" and allow Holmes to "offload" the burden of hearing these disputes in court, said one of Meng's lawyers, Scott Fenton.
Holmes agreed to consider the suggestion, although she added that "quite frankly, it's not something I've ever done before".
Meng, attending by phone, said little during the hearing, except to confirm her presence and acknowledge Holmes' instructions.
But in the moments before the hearing, Meng almost revealed her private phone number to those listening to the call. She recited the first six digits of her phone number to her interpreter before a court official interrupted to remind her that reporters were listening in, prompting Meng to laugh.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies and the daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei, is accused by the US of defrauding HSBC bank by lying about Huawei's business activities in Iran, allegedly in breach of US sanctions.
In a key ruling last week, Holmes rejected Meng's application for the case to be dismissed on the grounds that the charges failed the test of "double criminality", which demands that suspects in Canadian extradition cases must be accused of something that would constitute a crime in Canada as well as in the requesting country.
Meng's lawyers said the case was a "dressed up" accusation of breaching US sanctions, which is not a crime in Canada, but Holmes concluded that the underlying charge was that Meng had committed fraud by lying.
Meng was arrested on December 1, 2018 by Canadian police, acting on a US request, at Vancouver's airport during a stopover on a flight from Hong Kong. She is currently under partial house arrest at her C$13.6 million (US$10.1 million) mansion in Vancouver, on C$10 million bail.
On Wednesday, Holmes agreed to receive the joint scheduling submission on June 15 and adjourned proceedings until then. Meng was bound over.
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