A plane believed to be carrying Chinese tech executive Meng Wangzhou took off from the Vancouver airport on Friday, marking a new stage in a legal saga that ensnared Canada — and two of its citizens — in a dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments.
A B.C. court decided on Friday that the extradition case against Meng would be dropped after the Huawei chief financial officer reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government.
The deal with U.S. prosecutors resolved the charges against the Huawei executive.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to address the case in news conference scheduled for 8:45 p.m. ET, which you can live on this page.
The agreement set in motion Meng’s departure from Canada after she had spent nearly three years under house arrest. The plane that departed Vancouver is an Air China charter destined for Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city where Huawei has its headquarters.
As part of her arrangement with U.S. prosecutors, Meng pleaded not guilty in a court Friday to multiple fraud charges.
The Huawei chief financial officer entered the plea during a virtual appearance in a New York courtroom. She was charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracies to commit bank and wire fraud more than two and a half years ago.
David Kessler, an attorney with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, told the court the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) will last four years — from the time of her arrest on Dec. 1, 2018, to Dec. 1, 2022.
Kessler said that if Meng complies with her obligations, the U.S. will move to dismiss the charges against her at the end of the deferral period. If she doesn’t, she can still be prosecuted.
WATCH | Meng Wangzhou speaks following her B.C. court apperance
The agreed statement of facts from Friday’s U.S. court appearance said that Meng told a global financial institution that a company operating in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions was a “local partner” of Huawei when in fact it was a subsidiary of Huawei.
“In entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicole Boeckmann said in a statement.
‘Sorry for the inconvenience caused,’ Meng says
Later Friday afternoon, B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes officially ended the Canadian proceedings, signing an order to discharge the U.S. extradition request and vacate Meng’s bail conditions.
She addressed Meng directly before ending a hearing that lasted less than 15 minutes.
“You have been cooperative and courteous throughout the proceedings and the court appreciates and thanks you for that,” Holmes said.
Outside the court, Meng read from prepared remarks while flanked by her legal team. She thanked Holmes for her “fairness” during the proceedings.
“I also appreciate the court for their professionalism and the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law,” Meng said.
“I’m also grateful to the Canadian people and media friends for your tolerance. Sorry for the inconvenience caused.”
‘Meng Wanzhou is free to leave Canada’
In a media statement issued this evening, the federal Department of Justice confirmed that “Meng Wanzhou is free to leave Canada.”
“Canada is a rule of law country,” says the statement. “Meng Wanzhou was afforded a fair process before the courts in accordance with Canadian law. This speaks to the independence of Canada’s judicial system.”
U.S. prosecutors also credited the Canadian justice system for its commitment to the legal process.
“We are enormously grateful to Canada’s Department of Justice for its dedicated work on this extradition and for its steadfast adherence to the rule of law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko.
Questions turn to release of Canadians
Today’s developments could mark a new phase in the strained relationship between the Canadian and Chinese governments.
The 49-year-old Meng was arrested at Vancouver’s international airport on Dec. 1, 2018, on a U.S. extradition request on allegations that she lied to a Hong Kong banker in August 2013 about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
A few days later, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in China in what is widely seen as an act of retaliation by Beijing against Canada.
Both men were charged with espionage. Spavor has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. Kovrig has yet to be sentenced; his trial wrapped in March.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the charges “trumped-up.” China has long insisted that the cases of Spavor and Kovrig are not linked to Meng’s case.
Colin Robertson, who served as a Canadian diplomat in China, said he expects talks between Washington and Beijing will now pivot to returning the two men home.
“You would get the plea by Meng Wanzhou and then at some later date we would see the two Michaels deported back to Canada, but I would not expect it to follow in a matter of days,” he told CBC’s The Early Edition.
“This would be a negotiation involving Canada but it would be principally between the U.S. and China.”
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