U.S. unveils criminal charges against China’s Huawei

U.S. unveils criminal charges against China’s Huawei

They include 13 charges filed by a New York grand jury indictment against Huawei for allegedly misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s relationship to a company doing business in Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions. The charges include allegations of attempting to obstruct justice by concealing evidence and moving potential witnesses back to China.

“We are deeply grateful to the government of Canada for its assistance and its steadfast commitment to the rule of law,” said acting U.S. attorney general Matthew Whitaker.

Whitaker also announced another series of 10 charges levied by a Seattle grand jury against Huawei for stealing U.S. technology from an American wireless company T-Mobile.

Earlier Monday the Chinese government underscored its view that Meng’s case is tainted by politics and slammed the United States and its efforts to persuade allies to ban Huawei on “the pretext of security. All countries should stay alerted to and resist such unreasonable actions of bullying.”

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said the Meng case is “definitely not a pure judicial case. There are strong political motives and maneuverings behind it.”

“We once again urge the Canadian side to make the right choice, immediately release Ms. Meng.”

“We will fulfil the obligations in the process which seeks to protect both the Charter rights of individuals as well as maintains our treaty obligations with the United States using a rule of law process that we and our court system which we are very proud of,” said Lametti.

Asked to respond to China’s claim the Meng case is politically motivated, Lametti said, “We are protecting Ms. Meng’s rights within that process and will continue to do so.”

According to a transcript posted on the Chinese ministry’s website, Geng dismissed Justin Trudeau’s weekend firing of Ambassador John McCallum, with little official comment other than to denounce Canada’s ongoing detention of Meng, saying McCallum’s ouster is a matter of “Canada’s domestic affairs and China has no comment on it.”

Trudeau demanded McCallum’s resignation Friday after he ignored a warning from the prime minister mid-week and repeated the mistake of talking publicly about the extradition case and how the plight of two Canadians detained by China in retaliation could be resolved via a deal between the U.S. and China.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters Monday that McCallum was asked to resign for expressing a position that was “inconsistent” with the government’s view of the Meng case. “The central job of an ambassador is to represent accurately the government’s position. John didn’t do that and that is why his position was untenable.”

Meng was released on bail in December, required to remain in Vancouver, and is due to appear in court again on Feb. 6. Justice Department lawyers revealed at her bail hearing that the U.S. wanted to extradite her to face fraud charges. They alleged she deliberately deceived multinational banks about Huawei’s ties to a company doing business in Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. Justice Department promised it would send the full package of documents to Ottawa by the Jan. 30 deadline in support of its controversial extradition request.

Meng is chief financial officer and deputy chair of China’s corporate darling, Huawei Technologies, which was founded by her father, company CEO Ren Zhengfei, who has close ties to the ruling Communist Party in Beijing.

Her arrest deeply angered President Xi Jinping, McCallum revealed last week.

Days after the RCMP arrested Meng under a Canada-U.S. extradition treaty, at the request of the U.S., China’s state security police arrested two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. They are being held on vague “suspicion” of threatening China’s national security but no charges have been laid.

Freeland said Canada will continue to rally allies in support of its demand that Beijing release Kovrig and Spavor, something China has warned against. And Freeland said it is “absolutely” possible to repair the damage done by last week’s series of events. Justice Minister David Lametti declined any comment on the substance of McCallum’s remarks, insisting that the case will be handled according to the rule of law.

Freeland has repeatedly said the Meng extradition should not be politicized — which McCallum’s remarks appeared to do.

He said she has a “quite good” legal defence and said one option to resolve the U.S. extradition request could be that the U.S. makes a deal with China to drop charges against Meng thereby paving the way for China to release the Canadians who are detained.

In the Commons, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded why Trudeau showed “such weakness” and didn’t fire McCallum sooner. He said China is a “debacle” for the Liberal government and its foreign policy is a “disaster.”

Geng was not asked what impact the departure of McCallum, who was Trudeau’s hand-picked envoy and was personally engaged on the consular cases — would have on the ongoing detentions of Kovrig and Spavor. But the foreign ministry spokesman reiterated China’s firm stand on a third detained Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, who was hastily retried in the past two weeks by a court that elevated his 15-year jail term for drug trafficking to the death penalty.

The Trudeau government says China has acted “arbitrarily” in detaining the men, and in re-sentencing Schellenberg to face execution.

Geng said “China’s judicial authority” is dealing with Schellenberg’s “in strict accordance with the law.”

Schellenberg’s legal team is expected to file an appeal this week of the death sentence, but Geng exhibited little sympathy.

“China’s attitude is very clear,” said Geng. “We are a country governed by the rule of law, and everyone is equal before the law. Drug-related crimes, which bring great harm to society, are considered as felony around the world and severely cracked down upon by all countries.”

He said appeal questions “involve very serious and professional legal matters” and referred questions to “the competent authority.”

The fate of those three Canadians, and the prospects of fair legal treatment for about 200 other Canadians currently facing legal troubles or exit bans in China have upped the stakes for the Liberal government to find a replacement who will carry weight with the Chinese.

A senior government official told the Star that Xi’s office had communicated its desire that Ottawa send a politically connected ambassador — like Trudeau’s representative in Washington David MacNaughton — who would have the prime minister’s ear. When Trudeau appointed McCallum in 2017, the former cabinet minister and one-time bank economist became the first ambassadorial appointment to Beijing who didn’t come from Canada’s diplomatic corps. McCallum was a key political player within the Trudeau government, and as immigration and citizenship minister had steered the Liberals’ election promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

For now, Trudeau has named Jim Nickel, McCallum’s former deputy head of mission in Beijing, as his interim replacement or chargé d’affaires at the embassy.

The government signalled on the weekend it would name another permanent ambassador soon.

NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron told reporters Monday that Trudeau needs to explain “not just to parliamentarians, but to Canadians, what is Canada’s strategy and plan to address a situation that is presently sensitive.

“We don’t have an ambassador right now. We don’t have someone who is making the decisions basically for the embassy in a very sensitive situation with our relationship with China,” Caron said.

“We think that the federal government, by accepting the resignation, has done the right thing, even though it was belated. On the other side (the government) needs to actually act quickly to ensure there will be some stability on the Canadian side in China.”

After McCallum resigned, Scheer told reporters Trudeau should have fired McCallum after his first misstep, when he told mostly Chinese-language media in Markham that he believed Meng had “strong arguments” in her battle against extradition to the U.S.

Scheer told his MPs on Sunday that Canadians are tired of how Trudeau’s government “has damaged relationships with key allies and trading partners, backed down to Donald Trump on NAFTA, and refuses to get serious about the threat posed by China.”

Scheer has said he would no longer pursue talks toward a free trade deal with China — as Stephen Harper once did — and says Canada should ban Huawei from its 5G wireless infrastructure development over security concerns as several of its allies have.

In a statement released Saturday afternoon, Trudeau said he demanded McCallum’s resignation on Friday night.

That was after the Star published an interview with McCallum in Vancouver in which he said that it would be “great for Canada” if the United States relinquishes its attempt to extradite Huawei’s chief financial officer.

With files from Alex Ballingall, Susan Delacourt, Ottawa bureau

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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