Strip away the geopolitics and Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is like any other defendant facing a fraud charge, says a lawyer for Canada’s attorney general.
Robert Frater concluded the Crown’s request for Meng’s extradition on Thursday by assuring B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes she wouldn’t be breaking new legal ground by sending the executive to the U.S. to face trial.
“This is a case about lying to a bank in order to get the banking services continuing to flow as before,” Frater told the judge. “That is not an unusual thing.”
Accused of lying to HSBC
Frater’s final exchange with the judge followed two days of arguments in support of a request for Meng’s extradition that resulted in her arrest at Vancouver’s airport more than 2½ years ago.
The 49-year-old is charged with fraud in relation to allegations she lied to an HSBC executive in Hong Kong about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
Meng is charged with fraud in relation to allegations she lied to an HSBC executive in order to convince the bank to continue a financial relationship with Huawei. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)
Prosecutors claim the bank’s global risk committee relied on Meng’s assurances in deciding that its multimillion-dollar financial relationship with Huawei was safe to continue.
In fact, the U.S. claims Meng’s alleged lies placed HSBC at risk of loss due to possible civil or criminal penalties for breaking the same set of sanctions.
Meng has denied the charges against her.
Frater’s comments came after what he claimed was an attempt by Meng’s lawyers to characterize the case as unique and unprecedented.
Holmes asked Frater — who is the Justice Department’s chief counsel — why he felt it was significant to make that point.
“They’re trying to say it’s unique and unprecedented because it’s a legal stretch,” Frater responded.
“I’m saying, no, when you strip it down to its essentials, we’re not dealing with anything that is unique or unprecedented. It is within the four corners of the law as we understand it.”
‘Entitled to honest, forthright information’
Holmes must decide whether there would be enough evidence to send Meng to trial for fraud in Canada if her alleged offences had occurred in this country.
To do that, she has to rely on evidence provided by the United States through a series of documents known as the “record of the case” which detail a narrative of events and expected witness testimony.
B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes asked Crown lawyer Robert Frater why he thought it was significant to stress that the fraud charge against Meng is not unique. (Felicity Don)
The defence claims HSBC didn’t suffer any loss.
Frater told the judge previous courts have determined that it’s enough to prove the bank was “denied the opportunity to make a profit, or denied the opportunity to prevent a loss.”
“You are entitled to honest, forthright information to allow you to assess your risk,” Frater said.
“If you are going to be asked to loan millions of dollars to a customer — an inherently risky activity — you are entitled to assess whether you want to do that for a client who is lying to you or not disclosing essential information to you.”
Frater contrasted the allegations against Meng to a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision in a case that he said actually qualified as “unique” — “getting charged with fraud for injecting horses.”
In that case, Canada’s top court found a direct link between a defendant caught drugging a horse to rig a race and the threat of loss to the betting public.
Regardless of whether any actual loss could be shown, the judges said there was a possibility “that a horse that might otherwise have won would not.”
‘It doesn’t mean there is no fraud’
Frater said the only truly novel part of the fraud charge against Meng is its tie to U.S. sanctions law.
Holmes challenged him.
“Isn’t it unusual that one would see a fraud case with no actual harm many years later and one in which the alleged victim — a large institution — appears to have numerous people within the institution who had all the facts that are now said to be misrepresented?” the judge asked.
Meng leaves the B.C. Supreme Court after the Crown finished submissions at her extradition hearing on Thursday. Her lawyers will begin making their case on Friday. (Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press)
Frater said it doesn’t matter whether some people within HSBC knew the truth of Meng’s alleged lies.
“It doesn’t mean there is no fraud,” he said.
The proceedings will continue Friday as the defence begins the first of several days of arguments.
In court documents filed ahead of the hearing, Meng’s lawyers admit that charges of fraud are “common” in extradition requests.
“This case is different,” the written arguments claim.
“No deception. No loss. Not even a plausible theory of risk. And no causal connection between the impugned representations and the deprivation said to have befallen the putative victim.”
The defence’s submissions go on to say there is an “evidentiary void” at the centre of the case.
Four of Meng’s lawyers are expected to split the reply to Frater’s arguments.
The extradition proceedings are scheduled to end by Aug. 20, after which Holmes will likely reserve her decision until a later date.