Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou strikes deal with US prosecutors

The chief financial officer of Chinese firm Huawei was arrested in Canada in December 2018 on charges of violating United States sanctions.

Meng Wanzhou (centre) exits her home in Vancouver, Canada on Friday, as US prosecutors are expected to announce they have reached a deal with her [File: Jimmy Jeong/Bloomberg]

Huawei Technologies Co. executive Meng Wanzhou and the U.S. Justice Department have reached a deal to resolve criminal charges against her, a breakthrough in a case that raised tensions between China, Canada and the U.S.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, told the U.S. judge presiding over Meng’s case that they will appear in court Friday afternoon to “address with this court a resolution of the charges against the defendant.” Meng is getting a deferred-prosecution agreement and is not expected to plead guilty, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The Huawei chief financial officer was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on charges of violating U.S. sanctions. Her detention sparked a diplomatic crisis and retaliatory trade measures by Beijing, which has called it a politically motivated attack on one of its chief technology champions. Meng has spent the last few years fighting extradition to the U.S. It’s not clear when she will be allowed to return to China.

China has frequently linked Meng’s case with that of jailed Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The two Michaels, as they are known in Canada, were detained in China within days of Meng’s arrest. If the deal with Meng is followed by a reciprocal agreement by Beijing to release them, it would represent a political win for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just days after a national election in which he faced stiff criticism from the rival Conservatives over his handling of relations with Beijing.

Officials at China’s embassies in Washington and Ottawa didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors allege that Huawei and Meng lied to HSBC Holdings Plc about Huawei’s relationship with a third company that was doing business in Iran, as part of a scheme to violate U.S. trade sanctions on that country. Meng, 49, was accused of personally making a false presentation in August 2013 about those ties.

Huawei has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. prosecutors raised the stakes last year by adding racketeering conspiracy charges against Huawei. The company pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Huawei have been locked in a battle over evidence since the case was unveiled in early 2019. The company recently lost a battle for more evidence from the government based on material that the U.S. filed in its extradition request for Meng in Canada.

John Marzulli, a spokesman for acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis, declined to comment on the Meng case. Officials at the U.S. Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reid Weingarten, Meng’s lead U.S. defense counsel, didn’t immediately return voicemail or email messages seeking comment, nor did Meng’s lawyers in Canada. Spokespeople for Huawei in Canada didn’t respond right away.

Spying Conviction

As Meng’s case appeared to languish, pressure on Trudeau’s government grew. Last month, a Chinese court jailed Spavor for 11 years on spying charges. But while that decision left the door open for Spavor’s eventual deportation, it sparked more international criticism.

Trudeau condemned the verdict as “absolutely unacceptable and unjust” while David Meale, the top U.S. diplomat in Beijing, called the proceedings a “blatant attempt to use human beings as bargaining leverage.” In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Beijing’s sentencing and called for the immediate release of all people “arbitrarily” detained in China.

The conviction of Spavor, along with that of Kovrig — a Hong Kong-based analyst at the International Crisis Group and former Canadian diplomat — fueled criticism of the expansion of “hostage diplomacy.” China has repeatedly linked the cases to Meng’s, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying last year that halting her extradition “could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”

Trudeau’s incumbent Liberals won a third term this week, but the prime minister was unable to regain majority control of the legislature. The continued detention of the two Michaels remains a central foreign policy issue for his government.

Source: Bloomberg