Extradition Hearing Formally Begins For Huawei's Meng Wanzhou
NOEL KING, HOST:
This week, an important extradition hearing is happening in Vancouver. Meng Wanzhou is the chief financial officer of Huawei, the giant technology company. A little over a year ago, Canadian police arrested her while she was changing planes in Vancouver. The U.S. had asked for her to be arrested for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran.
Reporter David McGuffin has been following all of this from Ottawa. Hey, David.
DAVID MCGUFFIN, BYLINE: Hey, there.
KING: What is she accused of doing exactly?
MCGUFFIN: Well - so as CFO of Huawei - Huawei itself is accused of operating a shell company called Skycom that did business inside Iran. And the U.S. government is saying it was in actual and complete violations of Iran's sanctions by operating there. The U.S. says it was wholly owned and operated by Huawei. Executives deny this. They say it was just a contracted company.
So basically, under Canadian extradition law, you have to break an equivalent law within Canada. And this is the crux of the argument here 'cause her lawyers are saying there are no Iran sanctions in Canada so that - this should just be thrown out; she should be set free. And they're also saying, effectively, the Trump administration is trying to use Canada to enforce economic sanctions that Canadians have rejected.
Canadian government lawyers, for their part, are saying, no, this is actually not specifically about Iran sanctions; it's about fraud that Meng told international bank, specifically HSBC, that they weren't in violation - Skycom wasn't in violation of Iran sanctions - and they then put those banks at risk of breaking U.S. sanctions laws. So that's the crux of the arguments in the hearings right now.
KING: OK. So this is a very complicated case, to say the least. What is happening in the courtroom in Vancouver this week?
MCGUFFIN: So this week is basically - it's not a trial itself; it's a hearing on whether the trial should go ahead. It's going to play out over five days. So basically, they're trying to decide whether she has broken the equivalent Canadian law and whether this trial should go ahead.
KING: OK. And if she's broken the law, she will be on trial in Vancouver, yeah?
MCGUFFIN: She'll be on trial in Vancouver, yeah.
KING: This is a very powerful woman. This is a very powerful company. What is China saying about all of this?
MCGUFFIN: Well, China's basically been on one track since this began - that she's done nothing wrong and she should be released immediately. Their more recent statement was that the U.S. and Canada are violating extradition laws. But basically, they're demanding her release and have stuck to that line right through this.
KING: OK. So they would like her to be released and sent back to China. Is that it?
MCGUFFIN: Yeah, exactly. She would just go back to China. And that's what would happen at this - if the hearing decides that there is no trial to go ahead for extradition.
KING: OK. So in retaliation for her arrest, China has detained two Canadians. Tell me about them.
MCGUFFIN: Yeah, they're called the two Michaels here - Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, an entrepreneur and a former diplomat. They were detained within two weeks of the arrest of Meng in Canada. So they - unlike her, who - she's free on bail and basically free to move around Vancouver - they've been held without - initially without charges and then without, really, any access to lawyers or family for over 400 days now.
MCGUFFIN: So - yeah. So it's - there's been talk about swapping them, there being a direct swap. The Canadian deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, has said that can't happen and won't happen. Canada is a rule of law country, and this needs to work through the courts.
KING: OK. Reporter David McGuffin in Ottawa. Thank you.
MCGUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.