Huawei exec facing extradition appears in Canada court

Vancouver (AFP) –


A senior Chinese telecom executive whose arrest in Canada on a US warrant triggered a diplomatic row between Ottawa and Beijing appeared in court Wednesday to fight for her release.

Canada's justice department said the court was to set the next key dates in an extradition process -- including the start of the formal hearing for Meng Wanzhou, which could take months or even years.

Meng herself had been expected to make only a brief appearance before the judge to deal with matters described by officials as "administrative in nature."

But defense lawyers took several hours to renew their objections to her arrest in Vancouver in December while seeking a variation of her bail terms that would allow her to move to a larger residence in Vancouver for the duration of the case.

The prosecution, meanwhile, indicated that it wished to fast-track the proceedings.

But haggling over the disclosure of evidence -- with the defense lamenting heavy redactions of 1,742 pages of documents released so far -- risked drawing it out.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing were thrown into crisis by the arrest of Meng, the chief financial officer of telecom giant Huawei and possible heir to her father's company.

Washington wants to put Meng on trial on fraud charges for allegedly violating Iran sanctions and lying about it to US banks, but the case has become a major irritant for Ottawa.

Following her arrest, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor in what observers saw as retaliation.

China later announced it suspected Kovrig of spying and stealing state secrets and alleged that Spavor had provided him with intelligence.

Two other Canadians convicted of drug trafficking, meanwhile, were sentenced to death. And Beijing recently blocked Canadian shipments of canola and pork worth billions of dollars.

Canada has accused Beijing of arbitrarily detaining both Kovrig and Spavor, and called the death penalties for Canadians Fen Wei and Robert Schellenberg "cruel and inhumane."

It has also rallied the support of a dozen countries, including Britain, France, Germany and the US, as well as the EU, NATO and the G7, in its diplomatic feud with China.

- Caught between US, China -

Most recently, Ottawa has pressed Washington -- which is threatening a trade war with Beijing -- to step up its pressure on behalf of the detained Canadians.

"Canadian lives are at stake," an unnamed Canadian official stressed to broadcaster CTV.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted that Meng's case would be dealt with by the courts, and not politicized.

He sacked his ambassador to China in January for suggesting that Meng had a "strong case" against extradition, citing remarks by US President Donald Trump that he might seek to have the charges against Meng dropped in exchange for trade concessions from China.

On Wednesday, Meng's lawyers raised what they called Trump's "corrosive" comments as proof that the case was politically motived.

They also refuted the principal accusation that Meng misrepresented to US banks Huawei's business dealings in Iran.

Meng was released on bail in mid-December in Vancouver, where she owns two residences, on a Can$10 million bond. She has also been ordered to wear an electronic anklet and hand over her passports.

She is now suing the Canadian government, alleging false imprisonment and a breach of her rights.

In court documents, Meng alleges that border officials and federal police delayed executing the US warrant by three hours during her stopover at the Vancouver airport in order to question her and search her luggage and electronic devices, hoping to glean evidence to be used against her at trial.

Huawei is also facing separate US charges for allegedly stealing American technology, and in recent months has faced a US campaign to blacklist it over espionage fears.

Canada has said it will decide before a federal election in October whether to join the US and other Five Eyes intelligence partners in banning Huawei from Canada's fifth generation wireless networks.