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Huawei crackdown

Drama in and out of court as Huawei CFO's extradition wraps up

As Meng Wanzhou awaits decision, Canadians claim they were duped into sham protest

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at the B.C. Supreme Court  in Vancouver on Jan. 23. (Photo by Marrian Zhou)

VANCOUVER, Canada -- The first extradition hearing of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou officially ended on Thursday after four days of impassioned arguments in the courtroom and a puzzling drama outside.

Arguments in the case, which could determine whether Meng is extradited to the U.S. to face charges including fraud and sanctions violations, focused on the issue of double criminality -- are the charges against her a crime in both the U.S. and Canada?

While lawyers debated this surprisingly thorny question, protesters outside the courtroom gathered to voice their support or anger on a number of issues tied up with Meng's hearing.

One group called for Huawei to be barred from Canada, while another highlighted the plight of detained Uighur Muslims in China.

A third group, however, attracted attention and then scrutiny: a group of young Canadians gathered in front the Supreme Court of British Columbia holding signs that read "Free Ms. Meng" and "Bring Michael Home."

Unlike most protesters, these young people, who only appeared on Monday, firmly declined to talk to reporters on the scene.

The next day, two women who participated in the protest came forward and said they had been duped into participating in the display, as first reported by local news outlet CityNews 1130.

"I feel cheated, used, abused, angry, deeply saddened and emotions that I don't even have words to describe," actress Julia Hackstaff, 32, posted on Facebook on Tuesday night.

Hackstaff told the Nikkei Asian Review that she was approached by an acquaintance on Sunday night about a gig as a film extra. The acquaintance said he heard about the job from another acquaintance and told Hackstaff that she would make $100 for two hours of work.

According to Hackstaff, she showed up at the Holiday Inn near the courthouse on Monday morning as instructed and was redirected to the Supreme Court by a woman named "Joey." When she arrived, a young man in gray hoodie and black pants checked a list on his phone and gave her a sign to hold up that read, "Free Ms. Meng. Equal justice." Hackstaff said she did not know who Meng was before the incident.

She saw a lot of cameras at the front door, Hackstaff said, and believed it was a film set -- until reporters started asking her questions.

"When you're shooting a film or television, it's common to have to wait around. ... I kind of just thought that was the scenario," Hackstaff said on the phone. "I played along for a question or two [from reporters] just thinking, this is part of it. ... But after two or three questions, like when it was very obvious that this woman was asking me details and real questions, then it clicked for me. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is real.'"

Hackstaff said she quickly left the scene without collecting her pay. Other protesters told similar stories of being "duped" into participating in what they believed was a film, according to local press.

The man in the gray hoodie checking names told Nikkei over the phone that he was also duped into this project, but declined to comment further and hung up abruptly.

The woman identified as "Joey" did not answer Nikkei's phone call, but later sent a message in Chinese asking to communicate via text. She did not respond to Nikkei's questions.

Huawei denied any involvement in the activity.

"They were not helpful," a Huawei spokeswoman said via email. "They distracted from the important legal arguments in support of Meng Wanzhou's release and are not something we would ever condone."

Inside the courtroom, meanwhile, the defense lawyers and the Crown Counsel wrangled over the thorny issue of double criminality.

The defense argued that in Meng's case, the double criminality test should focus on the U.S. sanctions against Iran, which Canada does not have. Her lawyers said Canada is its own country and should not import U.S. law into this case. The defense team also argued that HSBC knew about Huawei's relationship with Skycom, the Iranian subsidiary, so their was no fraud on Meng's part, which would mean the charges are indeed about sanctions-breaking.

The Crown Counsel countered that Meng's conduct put HSBC at reputational risk, which means reputable clients may not want to do business with the bank knowing that it has engaged in transactions with a company in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The prosecutors argued that reputational risk can lead to economic loss.

"If someone is making false representations to you, you are deprived of the chance to assess your business model as you should," said Robert Frater, chief general counsel for Justice Canada. "That in my submission is a risk of deprivation and that is what occurred in this case."

Frater also addressed the defense's argument that authorizing the extradition process raises public policy concerns. "The public policy concern that arises is honoring treaty requests, which is a strong public policy concern that insures Canada does not become a safe haven for fraudsters."

The defense lawyers took up the first two days of the proceedings, while the Crown Counsel used half a day on Wednesday. Meng's lawyers gave their response on Thursday morning, driving the argument back to U.S. sanctions against Iran.

"All of the risks referenced in the [the record of the case] and the [supplemental record of the case] were predicated on underlying U.S. sanctions risk. There is no reference in the ROC or SROC to any independent risk, including reputational risk, that is not built upon sanctions risk," said Scott Fenton, one of the defense lawyers.

The hearing wrapped up with the defense feeling confident, according to people familiar with the matter.

Meng looked lighter than before, smiling and thanking the court security guards as she walked out of the courtroom.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 27, which will focus on the abuse of process allegation put forward by Meng's lawyers.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes could make a judgement in the following few weeks. If she rules in Meng's favor, the April trial may not be needed. If she does not, then the April hearing could give Meng another shot at avoiding extradition.

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