The defence team for a Huawei executive wanted on fraud charges in the United States is alleging Canadian officials initially planned to arrest Meng Wanzhou when her plane landed, but instead questioned her for nearly three hours before arresting her.
In court documents released Tuesday, the defence alleges a “co-ordinated strategy” to have the RCMP delay the arrest, so that border officials could question Meng under the pretence of a “routine immigration check.”
It’s one of several allegations of wrongdoing that Meng’s defence team is lodging against the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, along with intentionally keeping poor notes and failing to arrest her immediately according to the warrant’s requirements.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Meng was arrested Dec. 1 at Vancouver airport at the behest of the U.S., which is seeking her extradition to face allegations of fraud in violating Iranian sanctions.
Both Meng and Huawei have denied any wrongdoing.
“Police notes from November 30, 2018 indicate that the RCMP formulated a strategy to ‘immediately arrest’ the applicant the next morning by going onto the plane after it arrived at the gate in Vancouver,” the defence says in its memorandum of fact and law.
But sometime between that night and the next morning, the plan was altered, the defence alleges.
Instead, three CBSA officers immediately detained Meng when she disembarked the plane while two RCMP officers stood nearby and watched, despite their knowledge of the warrant calling for her “immediate” arrest, the defence says.
She was taken to the secondary screening area for three hours and her electronic devices were seized. At one point, a border official questioned her about her business and its alleged activity in Iran, they say.
The court documents include a solemn declaration from Acting Supt. Sanjit Dhillon of the Canada Border Services Agency, who says that Meng repeatedly asked why she was selected for secondary inspection after she got off the plane.
Dhillon says in his declaration that he asked Meng what she did for work, whether her company sold products to the U.S. and whether it sold products in countries that it should not.
Meng appeared confused by the question and he rephrased it, asking if the company sold products or did business in Iran, to which he says Meng initially replied, “I don’t know,” he says.
“I reminded the subject that she is the CFO of a multibillion-dollar company, and that it would be hard for me to believe that she wouldn’t know these details about her company,” Dhillon’s declaration says. ”The subject stated that her company does have an office in Iran.”
Handwritten notes by an RCMP officer say authorities explained the warrant to provisional arrest and the charter rights to Meng after border officials concluded their inspection.
The defence argues spotty notes kept by the CBSA officers constitute a “strategic omission.” There is no mention of co-ordination with American law enforcement, nor the change in arrest plans, nor the CBSA’s advance notice of the arrest warrant.
“When assessed together, a clear pattern emerges from these materials: the CBSA and the RCMP have strategically drafted these documents to subvert the applicant’s ability to learn the truth regarding her detention,” the defence says.
The U.S. Department of Justice has laid charges of conspiracy, fraud and obstruction against Huawei and Meng, who is the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei.
Meng’s extradition trial is to begin Jan. 20, more than a year after she was taken into custody.
She has been free on bail and is living in one of her multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver while wearing an electronic tracking device and being monitored by a security company.
The nearly 1,100 pages of material released Tuesday were collected by Meng’s defence team, which plans to argue that her arrest at the Vancouver airport on Dec. 1 was unlawful.
The defence plans to use some of the material as evidence in its request for access to further documentation during an eight-day disclosure hearing that is to begin Sept. 23.
The defence team has previously said they want access to audio and are requesting other material through freedom of information legislation.
They were released alongside hours of airport surveillance footage after a senior B.C. Supreme Court judge agreed to what she called a “somewhat unusual” request to provide them directly to media ahead of Meng’s extradition hearing.
Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes told a brief hearing she agrees with both the defence and Crown that the interests of justice are best served by transparency in the high-profile case.
“It is somewhat unusual to provide the media copies of court material the instant they are filed, even though it will be weeks before the other party responds and the hearing takes place,” Holmes says.
“However, as counsel have noted, this case has attracted a very high degree of public interest and I agree with counsels’ assessment … that the interests of justice are best served by transparency in this instance.”
The court’s approval also follows a request from Holmes in March that the defence and Crown work together to find ways to lessen the burden that media attention has put on staff in the court registry.
Typically, media would apply through the registry for access to materials once they are registered as exhibits.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press