Vancouver (AFP) – Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese telecom executive at the center of an escalating row between Ottawa and Beijing, appeared briefly before a Canadian judge on Wednesday who set May 8 for the start of a hearing into a US extradition request.
Meng’s arrest in Vancouver in December on a US warrant infuriated China, which arrested two Canadians days later in what was widely seen as retaliation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday he was “very concerned” over reports from Chinese state news agency Xinhua that the Canadians, including a former diplomat, were suspected of espionage.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei, a telecoms giant founded by her father, was changing planes in Vancouver when she was detained at Washington’s request for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran.
Canada’s justice department last week gave its nod for the case to proceed, saying evidence against Meng submitted by the United States was sufficient to put before a judge under its treaty obligations.
Meng, 47, has been granted bail until the outcome of the case, which could take months or years.
If the judge rules in favor of extradition, Canada’s attorney general will have the final say over whether to hand Meng to US authorities who accuse her and Huawei of circumventing sanctions against Iran.
Huawei is also accused, via two affiliates, of stealing trade secrets from US telecommunications group T-Mobile.
Sporting a hoodie, Meng was ushered into the downtown Vancouver courtroom past a gaggle of journalists for the a hearing that lasted just 15 minutes.
Her lawyers said they needed more time to prepare a defense, which would include alleged abuse of process.
Outside, a small group of protesters burned a China flag, and waved placards calling for Meng to be extradited and demanding Beijing release the two Canadians.
– ‘False imprisonment’ claim –
Beijing denounced the accusations as the product of “strong political motivations” and an attempt to undermine its flagship telecoms company. Meng and Huawei have also denied wrongdoing.
Meng is suing Canadian authorities, alleging her rights were violated when she was arrested.
She is seeking damages for “misfeasance in public office and false imprisonment,” her attorneys Howard Mickelson and Allan Doolittle said in a statement.
They charge that Meng was improperly interrogated for three hours by customs officers, officially as part of a routine inspection, before being served with her official arrest.
Customs officers searched her phones and computers as well as her luggage, in violation of her rights, the lawyers said.
Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.
A third Canadian, meanwhile, had his sentence for drug trafficking upped from 15 years in prison to death row.
Trudeau has decried the arrests as arbitrary while insisting on a strict hands-off approach to the Meng case.
His former ambassador to China was sacked after he undermined that position by saying Meng had a “strong” case against extradition, citing comments by US President Donald Trump, and later adding that it would be “great for Canada” if the US dropped the case.