Vancouver (The Star) – In an unusual move, a lawyer for the detained executive of a Chinese telecommunications giant brought an electronic monitoring bracelet to a Vancouver court as he argued for his client’s freedom.
Monday’s hearing in the packed courtroom centred on proposed bail conditions for Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, including travel restrictions, GPS monitoring and round-the-clock surveillance by a security detail made up of former military and police officers.
The main point of contention was whether her husband — who is not a Canadian resident — could act as surety for her bail.
The defence argued Liu Xiaozong would be the “community surety” against her leaving the country if she is released to await a hearing for extradition to the United States. But the Crown lawyer opposed the idea, saying “if Ms. Meng were to flee … Mr. Liu would not be left behind.”
As the court later heard, the electronic monitoring bracelet can be easily removed with scissors, and the system proposed to keep tabs on Meng runs on the Rogers 3G network — and Rogers has a distribution partnership with Huawei.
Meng, Huawei Telecommunications’ chief financial officer, was arrested while transferring planes in Vancouver on Dec. 1 over allegations of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and misleading financial institutions. The arrest, carried out at the request of authorities in the United States, has infuriated the Chinese government and worsened pre-existing tensions between the two global heavyweights.
Meng arrived at B.C. Supreme Court shortly after 10 a.m. Her husband sat in the audience, flanked by members of their entourage.
Defence lawyer David Martin introduced two expert witnesses to weigh in on surveillance and electronic monitoring measures as part of a bail package. Martin said his client would foot the bill for any such services.
First to take the stand was Scot Filer, an RCMP veteran with three decades of experience and the CEO of Lions Gate Risk Management Group, one of the two security firms proposed by Martin to undertake Meng’s surveillance.
The majority of the Lions Gate personnel are ex-military and ex-police, according to Filer, and the company has a team of 12 full-time staff for “executive protection services.”
Filer suggested Meng stay at her W. 28th Ave. home in Vancouver during her bail period — an address targeted for an as-yet-unexplained break-in over the weekend. There is “no impediment” to stop his team from doing an effective job there, Filer said.
“Our responsibility would be to enforce the conditions of release imposed by the court,” Filer told the judge, adding he and his staff could make a citizen’s arrest if necessary.
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Lions Gate COO Doug Maynard would head up the team, with rotating pairs of security guards on eight-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
The Crown asked Filer whether his company had previously monitored a person on bail, and he said no.
The court then heard from Stephen Tan, co-founder and director of operations for Recovery Science Corp., a company that specializes in electronic monitoring technologies. The company uses a GPS chip in concert with a SIM card to provide minute-by-minute updates on a subject’s whereabouts.
Asked whether a subject had ever escaped while being monitored by Recovery Science, Tan replied, “Yes. One.”
The judge asked whether the device would be used on Meng if she was released on bail, and Martin said that if the sheriff were to release Meng, the device would allow her to be transferred immediately to Lions Gate custody.
Tan noted the wearable tracking device can be removed with scissors. This would trigger an alert, he said, adding the device uses the Rogers 3G cellular network.
Rogers currently distributes Huawei products through its retail sales network in Canada and has a partnership through its media properties to “build awareness” of the Huawei brand, according to a 2017 statement on Huawei’s website. In a statement submitted to StarMetro last week, Rogers declined to comment on Meng’s arrest.
Meng’s lawyer said his client was a woman of character and dignity with an unblemished record and deep respect for the rule of law. If released on bail, it’s “inconceivable” she would throw away her life’s work by failing to comply with court orders.
Meng’s husband agreed to be her community surety and pledged a large cash deposit and the two Vancouver homes in his name as further surety, said Martin. But Martin admitted he was unsure of Liu’s immigration status and faced questions regarding what assurance could be given that Liu would remain by his wife’s side in Canada, as promised.
In response, Martin pointed to a detailed affidavit submitted by Liu in support of his pledge, including documentation of his passport, titles and equity in his homes. Liu’s passport, however, has a visa that expires on Feb. 6, 2019.
It is unclear which country issued Liu’s passport, though it was implied his current trip to Canada was undertaken on a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport.
Hong Kong SAR passports are issued only to permanent residents of Hong Kong, but holding such a passport does not preclude simultaneous possession of a passport from another country.
According to Martin, Liu entered Canada last week as a lawful visitor and should be entitled to remain in the country for six months.
The U.S. has not yet formally made an extradition request, noted the presiding judge, Justice William Ehrcke. U.S. authorities have a 60-day window to issue such a request and could theoretically choose not to issue one at all, he said. The reality must be considered, Ehrcke added, that in the event of an extradition hearing, proceedings could go on for months or even years.
Meng’s lawyer proposed several arrangements to ensure Liu could legally remain in Canada as his wife’s custodian — a primary condition for Meng’s potential release on bail, according to the judge. The offer of money as surety, Ehrcke added, is a secondary consideration.
Crown prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley took issue with Liu’s offer to act as Meng’s surety, saying the husband has a “lack of connection to this jurisdiction.”
The prosecutor pointed out Meng’s permanent resident card expired nine years ago, while her B.C. identification card expired 12 years ago. And her defence includes no letters of reference from Canadians, he added.
This, he said, proves Meng has no meaningful connection to Canada.
The Crown emphasized Meng’s liability as a flight risk, and the judge suggested he understood the argument that should surveillance fail, Meng was positioned to exploit that failure more successfully than the average person.
Gibb-Carsley proposed surety be changed to a split between cash — at $7.5 million — and property.
If Meng were allowed bail, he added, he would prefer she be on house arrest 24 hours a day, rather than under electronic monitoring in restricted geographic zones as suggested by the defence.
The allegations against Meng were first revealed to the public during Day 1 of her bail hearing on Friday. A warrant from the Eastern District of New York alleges Meng knew Huawei was operating a company called SkyCom to do business with Iran, which has been subject to U.S. sanctions since 1979.
The U.S. authorities claim Meng committed fraud by telling an HSBC executive her company was in compliance with U.S. sanctions against Iran limiting communication technology. They further argue Meng broke the law when she told the banker that Huawei and SkyCom, another telecommunications company, were separate entities.
“The allegation is SkyCom is Huawei,” Gibb-Carsley said Friday.
Martin had countered, saying Huawei once owned shares in SkyCom and Meng sat on the company’s board, but the shares in the company were sold after 2009 and SkyCom became an independent contractor to Huawei.
The Crown argued Friday that Meng’s vast wealth means no surety or bail amount would deter her from fleeing to China should bail be granted. Meng’s defence argued her familial and economic ties to the city — as well as the reputation of her family — means she poses no flight risk.
Meng’s arrest sparked outrage from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who called her detention “unreasonable, unconscionable and vile in nature” and warned of “grave consequences” if she is not released.
And while Canada is obliged to observe its long-standing extradition treaty with the U.S., it has also been looking elsewhere — including to China — to establish new trade relationships during a rocky period with its largest trading partner.
This puts Meng’s arrest in Vancouver at the heart of tensions simmering between foreign powers seeking to reorient themselves to the reality of an ascendant China.
Huawei is the largest global supplier of hardware and infrastructure for both personal mobile users and network providers. The company’s ability to underbid the competition has made them an attractive partner for governments looking to develop 5G networks — a technological initiative widely seen as the future of connectivity.
But the telecommunications giant has also been the subject of suspicion over the possibility its technology may offer a “back door” to surveillance by the Chinese government — a claim Huawei has categorically denied.
The United States, Australia and New Zealand have banned the company from participating in the construction of 5G networks because of security concerns. Washington has been increasing pressure on Canada and Britain — the other two members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance — to follow suit.
Huawei is currently in partnership with leading Canadian universities across the country as well as companies such as Telus, with whom it is developing interconnected 5G networks in Canada.
The judge ended Monday’s hearing noting he had more questions regarding whether Liu could reliably act as surety for his wife.
Meng’s bail hearing will continue Tuesday.