VANCOUVER—Chinese tech giant Huawei appeared in a Seattle court Thursday to face multiple charges related to theft of intellectual property, just a day before Canada must decide whether to approve extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou, the company’s embattled chief financial officer.
Company lawyers entered not guilty pleas to charges including theft of trade secrets, wire fraud and obstruction of justice, according to the U.S. Western District of Washington’s online court records.
The case centres around allegations Huawei deliberately stole technology from American wireless company T-Mobile, which was developing a robot. A jury trial has been scheduled for March 2, 2020.
Meanwhile, the next chapter in Meng’s other criminal case is set to unfold Friday when the federal government will likely decide to proceed with extradition. The U.S. wants Canada to send her from Vancouver to New York to face multiple charges related to defrauding banks over Huawei’s dealings with Iran, contrary to U.S. sanctions.
A former prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice says both cases — the Washington trial and the charges behind Meng’s extradition — are likely linked.
Moreno noted the indictment of Huawei was “announced with significant fanfare” in January by the heads of the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. It detailed allegations of a decade-long ploy by Huawei and Meng to commit fraud in violation of U.S. trade sanctions and steal trade secrets to undermine American technological advancement.
“Announcing the prosecution of a foreign company is one thing, actually holding individuals accountable is something else when management remains physically outside the reach of U.S. authorities,” Moreno wrote in an email Thursday, noting Meng’s arrest in Canada offered a “narrow opportunity” to put a top Huawei official on trial in person.
Meng’s arrest on Dec. 1 at Vancouver International Airport as she was transferring planes from Hong Kong to Mexico enraged Beijing and hurled Canada into a diplomatic dispute with China, which has since detained two Canadians and summarily handed a death sentence to a third, apparently in retaliation. Meng is out on $10-million bail, living with a curfew and an electronic ankle bracelet in one of her two multimillion-dollar Vancouver homes.
The charges against Meng and Huawei came last month via unsealed grand jury indictments in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. They were announced on the same day U.S. authorities unveiled the charges in Seattle related to theft from T-Mobile.
The Chinese tech company is the country’s largest telecommunications provider and has become the most visible symbol of Western anxiety around China’s technological and economic ascendancy.
Huawei has denied all charges in both cases, saying it expects to be vindicated in court.
Federal Minister of Justice David Lametti must decide whether or not to proceed with extradition by March 1. If he approves, the process could take months and possibly years to play out.
Meng’s next court date is March 6, when the next steps for the potential extradition hearing could be set.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Huawei have been engaged in a war of words, with the latest salvo exchanged over the past week in Barcelona at the world’s biggest telecom industry trade fair.
At the high-profile tech show, called MWC Barcelona, the U.S. continued to argue Huawei is a state organ for the Chinese Communist Party, and that Huawei technology could provide Beijing with a back door to spy on foreign powers.
Huawei — one of the show’s major sponsors — used its platform to denounce such allegations, pointing to the Edward Snowden affair, in which a former National Security Agency contractor exposed the U.S. government for spying on its own citizens.
Convictions in the criminal cases could be a powerful tool in U.S. efforts to deter allies from using Huawei equipment in their domestic 5G networks — a campaign that may be flagging as Germany and the U.K. become the latest Western powers to show signs of allowing Huawei to participate in building their high-speed internet infrastructure.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who serves as vice-chairman of the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an email that “the United States and its allies need to maintain a common front against the supply chain risk of equipment from countries that do not respect the rule of law and that routinely place extrajudicial surveillance demands on domestic firms.”
But James A. Lewis, a former U.S. Commerce Department lead for national security and espionage concerns related to China, said while there is little “genuine disagreement” among Western allies that using Huawei equipment does present risks, there is disagreement over what to do about it.
With files from Michael Mui and Tonda MacCharles
Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer