Chinese technology executive Meng Wanzhou appeared in a Vancouver courtroom Wednesday for the first hearing in an extradition process that will put Canada squarely in the middle of a standoff between the United States and China.
Wednesday’s proceedings were short and focused primarily on scheduling. The hearing that will determine whether Meng, the chief financial officer for Huawei Technologies, will be extradited to the United States to face charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran will start May 8, the court ruled.
But Meng’s lawyer, Richard Peck, hinted at her defense team’s strategy, saying comments by President Trump show her case is politically motivated.
Last week, her team issued a statement objecting to the extradition process and what it called the “political nature” of the charges.
“The President of the United States has repeatedly stated that he would interfere in Ms. Meng’s case if he thought it would assist the U.S. negotiations with China over a trade deal,” the statement said.
The statement also suggested that her team would argue that the allegations against Meng constitute a crime in the United States but not in Canada. It said this was “an affront to the foundational extradition principle of double constitutionality.”
Meng has also filed a separate civil suit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the federal government, alleging that her constitutional rights were violated when she was detained.
The adjournment sets in motion a legal process that will be closely watched in Ottawa, Beijing and Washington.
Since news broke of Meng’s Dec. 1 arrest at Vancouver’s airport, Canada and China have been locked in an escalating dispute over her fate.
China denounced her detention and has called for her release. Canada has countered that it is bound by an extradition treaty with the United States, casting the case as a legal matter, not a political one.
Not long after Meng’s arrest, China arrested two Canadians on vague security charges widely seen as retaliatory. A Canadian serving jail time in China for drug smuggling was later resentenced and given the death penalty in a surprise, one-day trial.
After Canadian authorities gave the go-ahead for the extradition process in the Meng case to start, China offered more details on the charges facing the two Canadians being held on security grounds. They are suspected of stealing state secrets, Chinese authorities said Monday.
All this comes as the United States is engaged in tense trade negotiations with China. Trump has suggested more than once that he could or would cut a deal for Meng’s release in exchange for trade concessions — a plan that appears to run counter to U.S. Justice Department aims.
In January, the U.S. government unveiled a 13-count indictment against Huawei, two affiliates and Meng, alleging bank and wire fraud. It also charged the company with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Canadian prosecutors have not commented on the case since December, when Meng appeared for a bail hearing.
At that time, the prosecutors argued that Meng committed fraud in 2013 by misstating Huawei’s relationship with a Hong Kong-based company, Skycom, which reportedly was selling U.S. goods to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Meng’s attorneys denied the charges, saying Huawei sold Skycom in 2009.