(Bloomberg) – Almost three years after her arrest at a Vancouver airport, Huawei Technologies Co. financial director Meng Wanzhou left Canada on a flight to China on Friday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the matter.
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Meng, who had struck a deal to end the U.S. criminal charges against her, left on an Air China chartered plane to Shenzhen, where Huawei is headquartered, the person added.
Under an agreement with federal prosecutors, Meng, 49, admitted that she had misled HSBC Holdings Plc about the telecommunications company’s dealings with Iran, in violation of US sanctions against that country. Meng will not face any prosecution and could have the charges against her dismissed by December 2022 if she complies with the terms of the deal.
But a larger racketeering indictment is still pending against Huawei, which continues even as a broader rivalry between Washington and Beijing sees relations between the two powers at their lowest in years. Meng’s arrest sparked a diplomatic crisis and retaliatory trade measures from China, which called his prosecution a politically motivated attack on one of its top tech champions. With the bank fraud, conspiracy and wire fraud charges brought against her, Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted in the United States.
The Justice Department said Meng’s confession “confirms the core of the government’s allegations in the prosecution of this financial fraud – that Meng and his fellow Huawei employees are engaged in a concerted effort to deceive global financial institutions,” the US government and the public on Huawei’s business. in Iran. “
The company pleaded not guilty.
British Columbia Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes released Meng after the United States announced it would withdraw its extradition request. The development paves the way for Meng, who had been under house arrest in Vancouver since December 2018, to return home to China.
Pro-Meng supporters gathered outside Vancouver court on Friday chanting “Not Guilty!” After the hearing, Meng gave her colleagues a big hug as she left the courtroom to the applause. One of them lifted her up. She thanked her boosters, the Chinese Consul and the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience”.
There was also at least one detractor, when a car passed with the driver shouting obscenity against Meng and the Chinese Communist Party, to some cheers. Meng sped off in a black SUV.
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The United States has said it will continue its racketeering case against the company.
“Our prosecution team continues to prepare for the lawsuit against Huawei, and we look forward to proving our case against the company in court,” Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Polite said in a statement.
Huawei’s U.S. attorneys David Bitkower and Michael Levy did not immediately return voicemail and email messages seeking comment on Meng’s deal and the impact it could have on their case.
Canada will seek to clarify what the ruling means for two of its citizens imprisoned in China after Meng’s detention.
Given tensions around the deal and the number of other unresolved issues between the United States and China, Friday’s deal sparked speculation that it was part of a larger deal or that the United States got something in return.
“If that Huawei person can go home, I would expect there would be other elements in some type of arrangement, that there would be a quid pro quo, whatever. China has made it. a priority, ”Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said on“ Balance of Power ”on Bloomberg TV on Friday.
China has often linked Meng’s case to that of imprisoned Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The two Michael’s, as they are known in Canada, were detained in China days after Meng’s arrest. If the deal with Meng is followed by a reciprocal agreement from Beijing to release them, it would represent a political victory for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just days after a national election in which he faced stiff criticism from rival conservatives over his relationship handling. with Beijing.
Meng’s return would be a victory for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is taking a firm stand with countries like the United States, Canada and Australia to congratulate at home as he heads to a key meeting of the leadership of the ruling Communist Party next year. .
Officials at the Chinese embassies in Washington and Ottawa did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Huawei spokespeople in Canada also did not respond.
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Appearing by video in federal court in Brooklyn earlier Friday from his attorney’s office in downtown Vancouver, Meng pleaded not guilty. U.S. government lawyers have said they will postpone prosecution in the case and dismiss the charges by December 1, 2022, if Meng complies with the deal, which prevents him from contradicting a four-page narrative. which sets out the American case against it.
At the Brooklyn hearing, she admitted to making “knowingly false statements” to a financial institution not identified by the United States. In previous legal proceedings, HSBC has been identified as the institution.
“Under this agreement, Ms. Meng will no longer be prosecuted in the United States and the extradition process in Canada will be completed,” one of her lawyers, William Taylor, said in a statement. “She did not plead guilty and we expect the indictment to be dismissed with prejudice after fourteen months. Now she will be free to return home to be with her family.
Prosecutors alleged that Huawei and Meng lied to HSBC about Huawei’s dealings with a third company doing business in Iran, as part of a scheme to violate trade sanctions. Meng was accused of having personally made a false presentation in August 2013 on these links. US prosecutors upped the ante last year by adding charges of racketeering conspiracy against Huawei, alleging it had gained an international reputation by stealing trade secrets as part of a corporate espionage model which lasted 20 years.
Although the indictment does not name the companies whose intellectual property Huawei allegedly stole, the details of the allegations match the descriptions of companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Motorola Inc. and Cnex Labs Inc.
China has long argued that the United States uses Meng as a bargaining chip to secure other claims. This suspicion appears to have been asserted in December 2018, when then-President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview that he would intervene in the United States’ efforts to extradite Meng if it helped him to conclude. a trade agreement.
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As Meng’s case seemed to languish, the pressure on the Trudeau government increased. Last month, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage. But while the move left the door open to his possible deportation, it drew more international criticism.
Trudeau condemned the verdict as “absolutely unacceptable and unfair” while David Meale, the top American diplomat in Beijing, called the procedure “a blatant attempt to use human beings as a lever for negotiation”. In a separate statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Beijing’s sentencing and called for the immediate release of all those “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 – has fueled criticism of the expansion of “hostage diplomacy.” China has repeatedly linked the cases to that of Meng, a Foreign Ministry spokesman who said last year that stopping his extradition “could open up space for the two Canadians’ situation to be resolved.” .
Trudeau’s outgoing 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 Michael’s remains a central foreign policy issue for his government.
The case is US v. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. et al., 18-cr-457, US District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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