A Boeing 777 was chartered by China’s government to fly Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou back home last May, in the mistaken expectation that she was about to be freed, a Canadian court heard on Tuesday, in a dramatic hearing that featured testimony from Meng’s husband for the first time.
Liu Xiaozong said he feared his wife might contract Covid-19 from the security guards assigned to prevent her fleeing while her extradition battle continues. As Meng’s lawyers sought to relax her bail conditions by releasing her from their custody whenever she leaves her Vancouver mansion, Liu also said that their two children feared being identified by the public because of the guards’ presence.
But a Canadian government lawyer tried to undermine Liu’s professed concerns about the virus by highlighting aspects of Meng’s lifestyle in Vancouver on bail that have previously gone unreported.
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Under cross-examination, Liu described a Christmas dinner in which Meng’s party of 14 people booked out an entire restaurant in apparent defiance of local pandemic rules, as well as shopping trips and gatherings at a home rented by Huawei employees.
The president of the security firm guarding Meng later described visits from a masseuse and an art teacher, and elaborated on Meng’s “numerous” private shopping trips to high-end Vancouver boutiques.
Liu said he was aware that a large jet had been chartered from China Southern Airlines in May, ahead of a key ruling that Meng’s lawyers believed would result in her freedom; she and her colleagues had even posed in a group for victory photos on the court steps, he said. But the May 27 ruling, on the issue of “double criminality”, went against Meng and her extradition case was ordered to continue.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei and the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested at Vancouver’s airport on December 1, 2018.
The United States wants her to face trial in New York on charges she defrauded HSBC by lying to the bank about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, thus putting the bank at risk of breaking US sanctions on the Middle Eastern country.
Meng denies the allegations, and argues that the case is politically motivated.
Under terms of the C$10 million bail (US$7.8 million) granted in December 2018, Meng lives in a C$13.6 million home, one of two properties she owns in Vancouver, while she continues her battle against extradition.
Meng must abide by an 11pm-to-6am curfew, but is otherwise allowed to roam most of the city, so long as she stays away from the airport. Meng has to wear a GPS tracker on her ankle, and is accompanied at all times by the private guards from Lions Gate Risk Management. Meng pays for the guards, who chauffeur her around town in large black SUVs, but they are acting as officers of the court to prevent her escape.
A lawyer for Meng, William Smart, said he was seeking the lifting of two bail conditions that require her to be accompanied by the guards outside the home.
But Canadian authorities consider Meng a flight risk, and say she has great resources at her disposal.
Canadian government lawyer John Gibb-Carsley, representing US interests in the case, said the private plane booked for Meng’s would-be victory flight was a Boeing 777, capable of seating more than 360 people, and that it had been chartered with the assistance of the Chinese consulate. Liu said he did not know these details.
Liu, testifying in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, before Mr Justice William Ehrcke, said he and the couple’s two children lived in Hong Kong. Canada’s immigration department granted them exemptions from Covid-19 travel restrictions that allowed Liu to travel to Vancouver in October, and the two children in December.
But Liu said he objected to the presence of the guards, saying “I believe my wife is at increased risk of Covid-19” because they travelled in the same vehicle with her. He noted in an affidavit that was read in court that his wife was a thyroid cancer survivor who suffered from hypertension.
Additionally, Liu said, the presence of the guards troubles their 12-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son. They had previously enjoyed going to coffee shops, malls and playgrounds together, but the presence of the guards made this a “challenge”.
Gibb-Carsley noted that even if it was challenging, there was nothing to prevent the family doing these activities under guard, and in any case, the pandemic made such activities less likely. Liu agreed to both points.
Liu said he did not like travelling outside with Meng and the Lions Gate guards because they attracted public attention. “Sometimes, I walk together with Sabrina on the street … it is easy to identify [us],” he said, using Meng’s English name.
Passers-by tried to take their photo. “That’s why the kids try to avoid being outside with Sabrina,” he added.
But Gibb-Carsley questioned whether Liu was “truly concerned” about Meng catching Covid-19, since both he and the children had spent their 14-day quarantine periods in the same house as her. Liu said his concern was genuine.
Under further questioning, Liu said he, Meng and their children had attended a 14-person dinner at a Richmond restaurant on Christmas Day with her “team”.
Gibb-Carsley suggested this was in breach of BC guidelines limiting gatherings to six people. “The restaurant was reserved only for Sabrina’s team,” said Liu. “There is no other people except Lions Gate.”
Liu later testified that he and Meng had gone out for only four meals while she was on bail, three at the same Richmond restaurant and one at a Vancouver coffee shop, that was likewise closed to other customers.
Gibb-Carsley asked Liu if he was aware that Meng sometimes did “private shopping”. Liu said he had been on one shopping excursion with her, in which dresses were booked for Meng to try on and she was served in “guest rooms special for her”.
Liu agreed with Gibb-Carsley, who said Liu and Meng had also visited a home rented by Huawei employees. Under further questioning by Smart, Liu said he did not worry about Meng contracting Covid-19 from members of her Huawei team because “they come here, they only work with Ms Meng, and they don’t have local families … they don’t have other contacts.” Some had also been vaccinated against Covid-19 he said.
In a statement released on Monday, Canada’s Justice Department said it opposed the bail relaxation.
“It is Canada’s position that the conditions imposed on Ms Meng by the British Columbia Supreme Court at her initial bail application in December 2018 were necessary and appropriate, and there is no reason to vary the conditions at this time,” the statement said.
Meng’s home is in Shaughnessy, one of Canada’s most expensive neighbourhoods. The 8,351-square-foot home – just two doors down from the official residence of the US consul-general – was recently renovated and features four bedrooms, eight bathrooms and a circular driveway.
The mansion is one of two homes Meng owns in Vancouver, a city where she once lived.
The next witness at the hearing was Douglas Maynard, president of Lions Gate.
He said the primary risks involved in guarding Meng were that she would try to escape; that another nation or organised criminals would attempt her “extraction”; that she would be targeted for the purposes of extortion; or that she would be targeted for harm.
“We believe the risks for some of these factors is actually rising,” Maynard said. As the end of the scheduled proceedings neared, the window for nefarious intervention was narrowing, increasing the relative risks, he argued.
Maynard said two employees of Lions Gate had tested positive for Covid-19. One played no role in the Meng deployment. The other worked in a control van outside Meng’s home and did not have contact with her.
Asked if Meng had engaged in behaviour that concerned him regarding the risk of Covid-19, Maynard cited a restaurant dinner in Richmond on December 4 with 10 people in attendance, sharing food from common plates. On December 5, “nine or 10 people” attended a coffee shop, where some drank from the same cup.
He also mentioned the May 23 photo shoot, involving unmasked people.
Asked for a general account of Meng’s activities on bail, Maynard said: “There’s shopping downtown, there’s an art teacher who comes to the residence, there is a masseuse who comes to the residence.”
Meng’s shopping trips to downtown Vancouver were “to some of the higher end stores. I won’t name them…They provide private shopping opportunities.”
Food was sometimes served and shared on these excursions, he said, which had once been “numerous”, but not in recent months, under pandemic conditions.
Maynard also elaborated on the 777 charter. He said it had been booked by the Chinese government; although it was a private flight, the plane was too big to leave from the south side of the Vancouver airport terminal from where private jets typically depart. Instead, it was parked in readiness on the commercial north side of the terminal.
The bail hearing was adjourned by Ehrcke until Wednesday morning, while the extradition hearings are due to resume on March 1 before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
The current schedule for the extradition case includes hearings in the BC Supreme Court until May 14; appeals could extend the process for years.
Meng’s arrest infuriated China and upended its relations with both the US and Canada. Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in China days later and accused of espionage, although Canada considers their arrests to be retaliatory and regards them as hostages.
Kovrig is being held in a Beijing detention centre, while Spavor is imprisoned in Shenyang, near the North Korean border. For most of their two years behind bars, Kovrig and Spavor were denied consular visits, but since October, Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton has been granted “on-site virtual consular access” to the men, according to Global Affairs Canada.
In a handwritten letter published by The Globe and Mail newspaper last month, Spavor purportedly requested quick-drying clothes, deodorant and a sleep mask, as well as a long list of books, including Chinese-language instructional texts and “prison biographies”.
Kovrig’s wife told The Globe that he walked 7,000 steps a day by pacing around his three-metre-by-three-metre cell.
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