The second day of the bail hearing for China’s most-prominent businesswoman, Meng Wanzhou, had just begun in courtroom 20 of the Law Courts in Vancouver when a man’s mobile phone ringtone sounded.
It was China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”
No indication whether the phone was a model from Huawei Technologies, the telecom giant where Meng is chief financial officer.
Another man sat nearby, gazing through a pair of camouflage binoculars at the proceedings. No indication whether he has a visual impairment or just wanted a closer look at the proceedings in the facility’s biggest, most-secure courtroom.
Come to think of it, despite the closed-circuit TV, Justice William Ehrcke does seem rather distant.
The lunch break on the Nelson Street plaza took on a circus-like tone. Several people appeared holding “I Love Huawei” signs, in defence of Meng, sparking media scrums. A spray painted sign read “Free Ms. Meng.” The streetcorner activism wasn’t there before the Chinese government’s propaganda arms published weekend rants scolding Canada and the U.S.
There were a few others who noted that Monday was international Human Rights Day and they reminded the unaware that Canada should be proud of its independent justice system and rule of law.
It is the world’s biggest court case, for the moment, but it was not resolved. Meng’s stay in the Alouette women’s prison in Maple Ridge was extended for at least another night. Meng’s legal team, a federal Crown lawyer and the judge spent the day inching closer to structuring a complex bail regimen for Meng until a curveball.
What about her husband and how could he take on the role of a surety and so-called “jailer in the community”?
Meng became a permanent resident of Canada in 2001, but let that lapse in 2009. That was around the same time husband Liu Xiaozong was here studying for a master’s degree and the couple welcomed a daughter into the world. Liu’s name is on the title for two houses. One bought in 2009 in Dunbar, that is proposed as their home while she contests extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges. The other is a 2016-bought mansion in Shaughnessy, two doors down from the residence of the United States consul general.
Lions Gate Risk Management’s Scot Filer, a retired RCMP officer, took the witness stand to explain how his company would offer round-the clock security for Meng, with two officers, a driver, a vehicle and encrypted communications technology from a Vancouver company called CommandWear Systems. The plan is to restrict Meng’s movements to City of Vancouver, Richmond and the North Shore. Filer admitted that his company has never been involved in such a project. They would work in concert with an Ontario company, Science Recovery, which provides GPS monitoring bracelets. None of the technology or the staff is guaranteed to prevent Meng from fleeing Canada, but it would minimize the risk.
Meng wouldn’t be the first Asian jetsetter to be under strict bail conditions in Vancouver while fighting extradition. Rakesh Saxena, the “Marxist Millionaire,” was nabbed in 1996 by Mounties in Whistler. It took until 2009 to exercise all appeals and for Thai police to take him away. Ehrcke conceded that Meng’s case could proceed in similar slow fashion.
Meng’s lawyer, David J. Martin, continued to call her a woman of character and dignity, with deep respect for the rule of law and no criminal record herself. Martin said she has no motive to flee and the evidence, so far, is “far from overwhelming.” He again cast doubt on the U.S. charges, saying that there is hostility toward Huawei for competitive reasons or larger geopolitical reasons.
Ehrcke reminded Martin that a 60-day clock started ticking with Meng’s Dec. 1 arrest for the U.S. to file its extradition case. Meng had arrived at YVR late morning on Cathay Pacific flight 838, on her way to meetings in Mexico, Argentina and France. Instead she was arrested and made a stop at Richmond Hospital to treat hypertension.
Martin, however, admitted to the judge that he was unaware of Liu’s immigration status, a detail which flummoxed the court the rest of the day. For the sake of bail, Liu was proposed to be the unofficial “jailer” of Meng in the community. Martin described Liu as a “venture capitalist,” and said he would pledge $1 million cash plus $14 million in real estate. Chump change for the daughter of a multibillionaire.
Liu’s China passport has a multi-entry visa for Canada, to expire in February. He also has a Hong Kong passport. One of Martin’s colleagues rushed to Liu in the gallery front row, behind Meng in the prisoner’s box, to retrieve his travel documents. If his Hong Kong passport was stamped, then he could stay up to six months.
When that’s up, Martin said, Liu could fly back overseas and re-enter Canada for another six months, apply to the Canadian government for an extension, attain guardian status if their 10-year-old daughter is transferred to a school here. Martin even suggested a work visa could be a solution; Liu had previously worked for Huawei’s Mexican division.
Federal Crown lawyer John Gibb-Carsley wasn’t buying it.
He told the court that Liu has no local connection and said the risks remain of Meng fleeing Canada. Even a small risk could have devastating consequences. Meng has access to vast amounts of money and her ordinary life is in China.
Gibb-Carsley upped the ante: he proposed Liu put up $7.5 million in cash and $7.5 million in property. Still, he admitted, the price of leaving the jurisdiction, is the price of bail. Martin then proposed a cash deposit for her bail and the potential transfer of the Matthews mansion from Liu to Wanzhou.
The day ended with some mirth. Martin called residency “an elastic concept” and compared the Meng proceedings to the controversy around Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy’s claim that his primary residence was in the Maritimes when he really hung his hat in Ottawa. “I’m not sure that’s a helpful analogy,” Ehrcke quipped.
Those in the room aware of Canadian politics broke out in laughter. Especially the man to Liu’s left, Huawei Canada’s lobbyist and unsuccessful 2011 Liberal candidate Scott Bradley.
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