There’s no evidence to support a “conspiracy” theory that United States officials directed Canadian border guards to interrogate Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport, a Crown prosecutor says.
Defence lawyers argue that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency conspired to obtain information from Meng during an admissibility exam in order to advance a criminal case against her in the U.S.
Meng was passing through the airport on Dec. 1, 2018, when Canadian border guards questioned her about Huawei’s business in Iran and seized her electronic devices before the RCMP executed a provisional arrest warrant.
John Gibb-Carsley, representing the federal Justice Department, told a British Columbia Supreme Court judge Wednesday there’s no proof the FBI or RCMP ordered border guards to conduct the exam or provided questions to them.
He also dismissed the defence’s claims that RCMP officers’ notes suggest they initially planned to board Meng’s plane to arrest her and that this plan abruptly changed on the morning of Dec. 1 to allow border guards to interview her first.
“These may seem like trivial points to correct, but in my respectful submission, this is the only evidence my friends have before this court to weave their story of a conspiracy,” he told the judge.
“Each fact that becomes put in context, and the sinister nature removed, I say erodes their overall allegations.”
The U.S. is seeking Meng’s extradition on fraud charges. She’s accused of lying to HSBC about Huawei’s work in Iran, putting the bank at risk of prosecution for violating sanctions against the country.
Meng, whose arrest sparked a diplomatic crisis between Canada and China, denies wrongdoing and her lawyers are in court seeking further documents ahead of her extradition hearing in January.
Canadian border guards held Meng for three hours and, in addition to seizing her electronic devices, obtained her passcodes and wrote them on a piece of paper that they gave to the RCMP when she was arrested.
The Crown acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that border guards should not have handed over her passcodes.
The CBSA later realized its “error” and asked for the codes back, but the RCMP responded that the passwords had already formed part of the evidence before a judge, the Crown said.
Justice Heather Holmes continued to push prosecutors on Wednesday for details on how the error occurred and when it was realized.
Gibb-Carsley said the passcodes were included on a list of evidence filed with the court on Dec. 6, so it’s fair to infer that the mistake was realized some time after that date.
He stressed that a forensic examination has shown that neither border guards nor Mounties used the passcodes or searched the phones. The U.S. has dropped its request for the devices and Canada is seeking to return them to Meng, he said.
“We know the passcodes were passed over. We know that was done in error. But what I respectfully submit there’s no evidence of is that it was done for a nefarious purpose,” Gibb-Carsley said.
“The passcodes will never be used on devices that will be returned to Ms. Meng.”
An RCMP officer’s notes from the morning of Dec. 1 say that the CBSA will locate Meng’s phones “as per FBI request” and place them in mylar bags. The defence has suggested this is proof of improper co-ordination between the agencies.
Gibb-Carsley said border guards have legal authority to seize devices and obtain passwords. Mylar bags prevent phones from being wiped remotely and it would have been inappropriate for the RCMP to not warn the border agency about the possibility of sensitive data being removed from Meng’s devices while they were in custody, he said.
The defence is seeking further documents that it believes would prove its allegations of the three agencies conspiring to conduct a “covert criminal investigation” at the airport. It has also suggested there should be a stay of proceedings.
Gibb-Carsley said there’s no evidence that would back up the extreme measure of a stay and the Crown has already disclosed extensive documents that go beyond its legal obligations.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press