Huawei CFO hits deal in US wire fraud case, may leave Canada after: NPR

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Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou, detained in Canada since December 2018 on extradition to the United States, was released on Friday.



AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Relations between the United States and China have been the most strained in years. A court case involving a Chinese citizen has further strained relations. Meng Wanzhou was Huawei’s chief financial officer. The United States accused her of violating US sanctions against Iran. She was detained by Canada in December 2018 and had been fighting extradition to the United States for three years. Today, the Justice Ministry reached an agreement to drop the extradition request in exchange for – in exchange for Meng Wanzhou to admit certain wrongdoing. NPR International Affairs Correspondent Jackie Northam has been following this case from the very beginning and is joining us now. And, Jackie, can we start with a little more information on this CFO of such a huge company, Huawei, and the allegations in this matter?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, as you say, Meng Wanzhou is the CFO, but she’s also the daughter of the founder of Huawei. And, you know, it’s no ordinary business. Huawei is the largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in the world and is truly considered one of the crown jewels of China. So it was a huge deal when Washington asked Canada to detain and extradite Meng to the United States in 2018. You know, that happened under the Trump administration, and prosecutors accused her of bank and electronic fraud. They said she misled financial institutions about Huawei’s business dealings with Iran. And Canada acceded to the United States’ request. And Meng has been under house arrest in Vancouver since his extradition case went to court.

CORNISH: What was decided in court today?

NORTHAM: Well, the hearing was a video conference. Meng was in a Vancouver courtroom during this. And she also used an interpreter, switching from English to Mandarin. Meng agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, and as part of that, she pleaded not guilty, but she admitted to misleading some financial institutions about Huawei’s dealings with Iran. Federal prosecutors will therefore defer the prosecution, and if she complies with all obligations under this agreement, the United States will drop the charges against her in just over a year. Meng will therefore be released from her house arrest in Vancouver. By the way, she has two multi-million dollar homes in the city. And at some point she will be able to return to China, but it’s really unclear at this point when that will happen, if it’s now, or if after all charges have been dropped.

CORNISH: Taking a step back for a moment, it had an impact on US-China relations. So is today’s development a step in a more positive direction? What does it mean?

NORTHAM: Well, it sure could be. You know, like I said, Huawei is an incredibly big company in China. And the case of Meng Wanzhou, you know, was brought up in several high-level meetings between American and Chinese officials. There was always the feeling that Meng was a pawn in US-China relations. The United States views Huawei as a national security threat due to its ties to the Chinese government. And, you know, Meng’s arrest was seen by many as one more way to bring the business down. In fact, former President Donald Trump at one point said he would intervene in his case if it helped secure a trade deal.

CORNISH: One more thing. I understand that China detained two Canadians in what was seen as retaliation for becoming involved in detaining Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the United States. Will these Canadians be released?

NORTHAM: Well, you’re right. I mean, Meng’s case put Canada in a very difficult position. Relations took a hit, but also, as you say, China detained these two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – just days after Meng’s arrest. And, you know, they’re charged and convicted of espionage. Kovrig was not sentenced, but Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison. But, you know, interestingly, the language used in his conviction left the impression that he could be deported. And, of course, now is the hope that this deal between Meng and the DOJ will get the two men back to Canada.

CORNISH: He’s NPR International Affairs Correspondent Jackie Northam.

Thank you so much.

NORTHAM: Thanks.

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