Some 5,000 miles away, Michael Spavor, one of two Canadians detained by China in what is widely seen as retaliation for Meng’s arrest, was in a prison near the North Korean border. When China let him call home over Christmas, it was the first time he’d heard a loved one’s voice in more than two years.
New details about Meng’s life of luxury while on bail — and its stark contrast with the conditions in which the two Canadians are being held — emerged last week in a two-day hearing in which Huawei’s chief financial officer argued that her bail conditions were too confining and should be relaxed.
Meng travels to designer stores in Vancouver where she can shop in private, a British Columbia court heard. She has spent time at an open-air theater “under the stars.” She receives visitors at the larger of the two multimillion-dollar mansions where she lives. Among them: a masseuse and an art teacher.
Under the terms of her $8 million bail, Meng must wear a GPS monitor and is kept under 24-hour surveillance by a court-appointed security firm. She has a curfew between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., but is otherwise free to travel around a designated area of Vancouver while accompanied by security guards.
The guards are the problem. She wants to lose them.
Meng, 48, daughter of billionaire Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested by Canadian authorities in Vancouver in December 2018 at the behest of U.S. authorities seeking her extradition. Now Canada is caught between China and the United States.
The U.S. Justice Department alleges that Meng misled banks about the nature of Huawei’s relationship with an Iranian-based subsidiary, effectively tricking them into clearing transactions that violated U.S. sanctions that prohibit business dealings with Iran. She denies wrongdoing.
Meng’s arrest enraged China. Within days, it detained the two Canadians — Spavor, a businessman, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig — and indicted them last year on espionage charges for which it has provided no evidence.
In last week’s hearing, Liu Xiaozong, Meng’s husband, told the court that the presence of the guards is difficult for their children, who fear that it risks identifying them to the public. He also said he worried that the changing roster of guards puts Meng, a cancer survivor, at increased risk of covid-19.
But Doug Maynard, president of the private security firm that enforces Meng’s bail conditions, told the court that he, too had concerns about coronavirus safety. He said Meng and her entourage have put his employees at risk by mixing social bubbles and drinking from the same coffee cup.
“I know I wouldn’t want anyone to drink from my water bottle,” he said.
Maynard said he saw no reason to change her bail conditions. He said she received about a half-dozen threatening letters in the mail last year, some including bullets, prompting Chinese officials to press Canada to release her immediately and return her to China.
John Gibb-Carsley, the crown prosecutor representing U.S. interests in the case, said Meng is a flight risk. He said a plane was chartered to take her back to China last May when a key ruling that could have ended her extradition case was released. The ruling did not go Meng’s way.
Kovrig and Spavor are cut off from the world in separate prisons, where they have endured sleep deprivation and been barred from seeing their families. The International Crisis Group, Kovrig’s employer, said he passes the time by walking 7,000 steps each day in a cramped jail cell.
China has sought to deny that the detention of the two men was tit-for-tat retaliation for Meng’s arrest, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman said last June that releasing her “could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”
Kovrig and Spavor were permitted a single call home over Christmas. For Spavor, it was the first call home since his detention. Kovrig had previously been granted a brief call to his sick father. For much of last year, they were denied consular visits, because of what China said were coronavirus rules.
Meng’s extradition hearings are slated to resume March 1, when she is expected to argue that the case against her is political and the proceedings should be stayed because of an “abuse of process.” With appeals possible, it could be years before a final decision on her extradition.
The judge reserved a decision on her bail for Jan. 29.
When a reporter asked Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, when the country would provide bail for the two Canadian men, he responded with what he said was a Chinese saying: “The one who tied a knot should be the one that undoes it.”
He said it was up to the Canadian government to see whether it could “work out a way to undo this knot.”