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Extradition Trial For Huawei Executive Facing U.S. Fraud Charges Begins In Vancouver

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her house on her way to a court appearance on Friday in Vancouver, Canada. The U.S. government has accused Meng of fraud.
Jeff Vinnick
Getty Images
Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her house on her way to a court appearance on Friday in Vancouver, Canada. The U.S. government has accused Meng of fraud.

Updated at 7:50 a.m. ET Tuesday

The extradition hearing for Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, began Monday in Vancouver, British Columbia. American officials want Meng sent to the U.S. to face federal fraud charges.

The Justice Department alleges that Meng fraudulently misled four large banks into processing "millions of dollars" worth of financial transactions with Iran in violation of international sanctions. In a 13-count indictment filed against Meng and Huawei in January 2019, the U.S. government says the scheme was conducted through a subsidiary called Skycom, a "corporation registered in Hong Kong whose primary operations were in Iran."

Meng was apprehended in December 2018 as she changed planes in Vancouver. China has demanded her release, and shortly after Meng's arrest, itdetained two Canadians on suspicions of espionage, a move that has been widely regarded as retaliation. The two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, have now been in detention for more than a year. Last year, a Canadian man who had asked a Chinese court to reconsider his 15-year sentence for drug smuggling instead received a death sentence.

Amid ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, the dispute over Meng has only deepened the geopolitical friction between the world's two largest economies. When he announced the charges last year, then-acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Huawei not only lied about its relationship with its subsidiary, but had been working to steal American telecommunications technology.

Whitaker said Huawei claimed it had sold its Iran-based unit while actually retaining control and ownership of it. As a result, the four unnamed banks doing business with Huawei had inadvertently violated U.S. restrictions on economic activity linked to Iran.

Meng has denied the Justice Department's allegations. Following her arrest, her attorney, Reid Weingarten, called Meng "an ethical and honorable businesswoman who has never spent a second of her life plotting to violate any U.S. law."

Huawei has denied violating American laws and called Meng's arrest "an unlawful abuse of process — one guided by political considerations and tactics, not by the rule of law."

"We trust in Canada's judicial system, which will prove Ms. Meng's innocence," the company said in a statement Monday. "Huawei stands with Ms. Meng in her pursuit for justice and freedom."

Nonetheless, in March, the Canadian government said the extradition trialcould proceed. When proceedings begin Monday, Meng's legal team is expected to argue that she cannot be extradited because the crime she is accused of in the United States does not constitute a crime under Canadian law. As CNBC reports, because Canada does not have economic services sanctions on Iran, Meng's legal team will argue that the nation's extradition laws do not allow for her removal.

Meng, 47, is not only a top corporate officer at Huawei, but she's also the eldest daughter of its founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei. Huawei has become one of China's most important brands — and the company is seen by the U.S. government as an avenue by which China exerts global power. That's due, in part, to Huawei's work around the world to build the next generation of 5G wireless networks.

Huawei has labored to reshape its image in the U.S., as the Trump administration has argued that the company's phones and technology threaten U.S. national security.

Meng is free on bail and allowed limited travel but is required to wear a GPS ankle bracelet and have around-the-clock surveillance. She has spent the past year living in one of the two mansions she owns in Vancouver. In May, she was granted approval to move to the larger one — located on the same block as the U.S. consul general's residence.

Last month, Huawei publishedan open letter from Meng on the anniversary of her arrest.

"If a busy life has eaten away at my time, then hardship has in turn drawn it back out," she wrote, thanking her supporters. "Right now, time seems to pass slowly. It is so slow that I have enough time to read a book from cover to cover. I can take the time to discuss minutiae with my colleagues or to carefully complete an oil painting."

The first phase of the trial is expected to last about five days, The Associated Press reports. The second phase, set to begin in June, will consider whether the FBI and Canadian police violated Meng's rights by collecting evidence during her detention — before she was arrested and informed of the crimes she allegedly committed.

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.