Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last year
The “princess” of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, is starting a three-week defence against extradition to the US on fraud charges two and a half years after her arrest.
The Huawei executive, the daughter of the Chinese company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, goes to court in Canada on Wednesday to battle claims she misled bankers at HSBC into breaking sanctions on Iran.
Ms Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver airport in December 2018 and has been forced to remain in Canada under house arrest ever since.
The US, which is pushing to extradite Ms Meng, accuses her of tricking HSBC into clearing up to $100m of financial services related to Huawei, a Chinese telecoms equipment maker, and an Iranian business called Skycom, misleading the bank into violating sanctions.
Meng Wanzhou has been held under house arrest and tagged in Canada
Huawei has been blacklisted by the US, which has accused it of posing a national security threat and a spying risk. In the UK, its equipment has been barred from future use in Britain’s 5G telecoms networks. The company has always denied wrongdoing.
According to charges in New York, the US claims Ms Meng “willfully conducted millions of dollars in transactions that were in direct violation” of Iranian sanctions and “repeatedly lied about the relationship between Huawei and Skycom”.
The case hinges upon a meeting and PowerPoint presentation between HSBC executives and Ms Meng in a restaurant in Hong Kong in 2013. Ms Meng is alleged to have duped HSBC into providing US dollar transactions to Skycom in breach of sanctions by concealing the Iranian links to Huawei.
Huawei’s lawyers, however, are understood to be preparing to argue that Ms Meng, its chief financial officer, was always clear about Huawei’s Iranian business relationships. They are expected to argue the US cherrypicked evidence, leaving out key slides from the PowerPoint that explain Huawei’s Iranian dealings.
Any Iranian business that was processed illegally through the US, court filings suggest, would have been HSBC’s error and not a result of Huawei’s manipulation.
Meng Wanzhou breakout box
HSBC said it was not party to the proceedings and declined to comment further.
The case has already had geopolitical ramifications, with Huawei planning to accuse the US of using Ms Meng as a pawn in negotiations between Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping.
Shortly after her arrest, President Trump said he would be willing to intervene in the case to secure “the largest trade deal ever made”. Huawei is likely to use these remarks as evidence that the case was political in its opening salvos.
The case has already been fought across the world. Huawei sued HSBC in London in an effort to obtain email evidence surrounding the case, but was defeated. It later sued the bank in Hong Kong earlier this year, but the evidence it secured has not been ruled as admissible by the Canadian court.
The arrest of Ms Meng has caused a diplomatic crisis between the US, Canada and China. China arrested two Canadians on national security charges shortly after her arrest.
The case was discussed in meetings between US officials and China in July and there are thought to remain backchannel efforts between the nations to ease tensions.
A ruling in the extradition hearing is not expected until October, which could then drag on for years in the event of an appeal.