How Huawei's CFO ended up in a Canadian jail cell

For months, American law enforcement officials wanted to arrest Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese tech giant ...

Posted: Dec. 11, 2018 4:48 PM
Updated: Dec. 11, 2018 4:48 PM

For months, American law enforcement officials wanted to arrest Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese tech giant Huawei, but she remained outside of their grasp.

Then in late November, with just two days' notice, they spotted an opening.

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On the morning of December 1, Meng was set to transfer from a Cathay Pacific flight at Vancouver International Airport. During her 12-hour layover there, she could be detained by Canadian police, giving US prosecutors the chance to seek her extradition.

"Unless Meng is provisionally arrested in Canada ... while in transit, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to ensure her presence in the United States for prosecution," the US request to Canada for Meng's arrest said.

The arrest in Vancouver went as planned.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder, was taken into custody on December 1 — the same day that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping dined on steak in Buenos Aires and agreed to a truce in their trade war.

The detention of Meng, one of China's top tech executives, emerged days later. It has fueled doubts about whether the trade ceasefire will hold and added an unpredictable new element to the rocky relationship between the world's top two economies.

The United States has not shared details of its case against Meng and its efforts to get her to stand trial over allegations she helped Huawei dodge US sanctions on Iran. The US Justice Department has repeatedly declined to comment.

But a trove of documents filed in Canadian court and reviewed by CNN Business provides a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes moves that led to Meng's arrest. And it indicates how the case could proceed if the high-profile executive is brought to a courtroom in New York.

Meng's alleged crimes

Meng, who also serves as deputy chairperson of Huawei's board, faces "serious charges of fraud involving millions of dollars" in the United States, according to the affidavit of a Canadian law enforcement official. She could receive substantial jail time if convicted, the statement said.

Her arrest was set in motion in August, when a US federal judge signed off on a warrant for her arrest.

The United States accuses Meng, 46, of helping Huawei, one of the world's biggest makers of smartphones and networking equipment, get around sanctions on Iran. She's said to have told financial institutions that affiliate Skycom was a separate company in order to conduct business in the country, when in fact it was a subsidiary.

"Meng and other Huawei employees repeatedly lied about the nature of the relationship between Huawei and Skycom and the fact that Skycom operated as Huawei's Iran-based affiliate in order to continue to obtain banking services," the United States said in the arrest request it delivered to Canadian authorities.

US officials went on to say that many of the deceptive statements followed a series of Reuters articles detailing Huawei's control of Skycom. The news agency reported that Skycom tried to illegally import US-made computer equipment into Iran.

Meng is said to have made multiple false claims at a meeting with one of Huawei's banks in 2013. Though it's not named in court documents, Meng's lawyer said Friday the bank was HSBC (HSBC).

The United States claims that during the meeting, Meng used an English interpreter and walked through a PowerPoint presentation in Chinese that "included numerous untrue or misleading representations regarding Huawei's ownership and control of Skycom."

Meng said that Huawei's relationship with Skycom consisted of "normal business cooperation," according to a translation of the presentation.

HSBC is said to have cleared more than $100 million in Skycom transactions that traveled through the United States between 2010 and 2014.

Stuart Levey, chief legal officer of HSBC, said in a statement on Monday that the US Justice Department has confirmed that HSBC is not under investigation.

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that Standard Chartered (SCBFF) bank was also duped by Huawei. Standard Chartered spokeswoman Julie Gibson said Monday that the bank is "unable to comment on client relationships or communications."

Meng's attorney said in court that there's no evidence she had personal knowledge of the facts presented in the presentation, which was prepared by others.

Huawei has said it's "not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng" and that it "complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates."

Four children and two houses in Vancouver

Court documents also revealed more information about Meng herself.

The daughter of Huawei's elusive founder, Ren Zhengfei, Meng said she first started work at her father's company in 1993, according to the personal statement she submitted.

She married Xiaozong Liu, a venture capitalist, in 2007. They have a daughter. Meng also has three older sons from previous marriages.

Though Meng primarily lives in Shenzhen, the city in southern China where Huawei is based, she said she was at one point a permanent resident of Canada. Her family bought one home in the city in 2009, and another in 2016.

Meng's lawyers have argued that she should be released on bail while she waits for an extradition hearing because of health concerns, including severe hypertension.

She was taken to a hospital to be treated for hypertension after she was arrested, according to court documents. She's also said to have survived thyroid cancer in 2011, and had surgery for health issues related to sleep apnea in May.

Meng said she has a Hong Kong passport and a Chinese passport.

US officials claim that in the past 11 years, Meng has been issued at least seven passports from Hong Kong and China.

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