VANCOUVER – Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou suffered a legal setback Wednesday when a Canadian judge ruled that proceedings to extradite her to the United States could proceed.
The decision on so-called double criminality, a key test for extradition, found that bank fraud accusations against Meng would stand up in Canada.
The interim ruling denying Meng’s attempt to gain her freedom means she will continue to live in a Vancouver mansion under strict bail conditions while her case plays out.
It also effectively dashed hopes for a quick mending of relations between Canada and China, which soured following her arrest on a U.S. warrant in 2018 during a stopover in Vancouver.
“The double criminality requirement for extradition is capable of being met in this case,” British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes said in her 23-page ruling.
“Ms. Meng’s application is therefore dismissed,” she added.
Prosecutors accused Meng of committing fraud by lying to a bank, in this case an American one. That is a crime in both Canada and the United States.
Outside the courthouse, protestors held placards that read “Extradite Meng Wanzhou,” “No Huawei in Canada” and “Canada don’t let China bully us.”
Inside, Meng was composed as the judge explained her decision, in contrast to a gleeful thumbs up the “Huawei Princess” had given while posing for pictures with family and friends on the steps of the courthouse days earlier.
In response to the ruling, China’s Embassy in Ottawa accused the United States of trying “to bring down Huawei” and Canada of being “an accomplice.”
“The whole case is entirely a grave political incident,” it said in a statement.
“We once again urge Canada to take China’s solemn position and concerns seriously, immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou to allow her to return safely to China, and not to go further down the wrong path.”
Beijing has long signaled that her repatriation was a precondition for improved bilateral ties and its release of two Canadians detained on allegations of espionage.
The arrests of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor nine days after Meng was taken into custody have been widely decried as retribution.
While the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has been out on bail, the two Canadians remain in China’s opaque penal system.
China has also blocked billions of dollars’ worth of Canadian agricultural exports.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted on allowing the courts to decide Meng’s fate.
He lamented last week that communist-led China “doesn’t seem to understand” the meaning of an independent judiciary.
On Wednesday his foreign minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, said Canada would “continue to pursue principled engagement with China to address our bilateral differences and to cooperate in areas of mutual interest.”
He also said Ottawa would continue to press for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, “who have been arbitrarily detained for over 500 days,” and for clemency for a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, facing execution.
During four days of hearings in January the court heard that Meng lied to the HSBC bank about Huawei’s relationship with its own Iran-based affiliate Skycom in order to secure nearly $1 billion in loans and credit, putting the bank at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.
Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department pointed to a 2013 presentation in Hong Kong in which she told HSBC executives that Huawei no longer owned Skycom and that she had resigned from its board.
The Crown called this a deception, asserting that Huawei still controlled the operations of Skycom in Iran and held its purse strings.
“Lying to a bank to obtain financial services is fraud,” Crown counsel Robert Frater told the court.
Defense lawyer Eric Gottardi accused the U.S. of abusing its treaty with Canada by asking it to arrest Meng, as part of a campaign against China’s largest international company and leader in 5G or fifth-generation wireless technologies.
The court, however, dismissed defense arguments that the case hinged on the U.S. sanctions against Iran.
“The essence of the alleged wrongful conduct in this case is the making of intentionally false statements in the banker client relationship that put HSBC at risk,” Holmes wrote.
“The U.S. sanctions are part of the state of affairs necessary to explain how HSBC was at risk, but they are not themselves an intrinsic part of the conduct.”
Holmes noted that her ruling in no way made a determination on whether there was sufficient evidence to justify extradition.
That question will be decided at a later stage in the proceedings.
The case is now expected to continue to its second phase, yet to be scheduled, when the defense will challenge the lawfulness of her arrest, followed by more hearings likely to be held in September.
Any appeals could further drag proceedings out for years.