Meng Wanzhou reaches deal in Huawei espionage case that will allow her to return to China, lawyer says
NEW YORK — Justice Department officials have reached a deferred prosecution agreement with a tech executive from China that will allow her to return home from house arrest in Canada, the executive’s attorney confirmed Friday, a major development in an ongoing investigation that has had geopolitical implications.
Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was expected to make a virtual appearance in a Brooklyn courtroom Friday afternoon to formalize the agreement.
Her attorney, Reid Weingarten, confirmed earlier news reports of the arrangement but did not provide details. A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver, B.C., in December 2018 and charged with bank and wire fraud, accused of misleading banks about Huawei’s relationship with a company in Iran called Skycom, which U.S. prosecutors allege is a Huawei subsidiary. She has been held in Canada for three years, straining Beijing’s relations with Ottawa as well as Washington.
The Justice Department alleged that Huawei and Meng tricked the banks into clearing millions of dollars in transactions with Skycom in violation of U.S. sanctions prohibiting business dealings with Iran.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, has denied wrongdoing. She was released from jail on $8 million bail to the larger of her two multimillion-dollar mansions in Vancouver. She must wear a GPS monitor, has a curfew and is kept under 24-hour surveillance by a court-appointed security firm but has otherwise been free to travel around a designated area of the city.
China has cast the charges against Meng as political, arguing that they are part of a U.S. plot designed to stunt the country’s rise.
The case is one of several points of contention between the United States and Huawei, which is one of China’s largest tech companies and the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment.
The Trump administration placed Huawei on an export blacklist in 2019 after calling the company a national security threat, including for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. That move and subsequent tightening of the restrictions stopped Huawei from buying many types of high-tech semiconductors, hurting the Chinese company’s ability to manufacture.
U.S. officials have also called Huawei’s aggressive push into the global 5G telecommunications equipment market a national security threat, warning that Chinese authorities could tap into the gear to spy on or disrupt communications. Huawei and China have rejected that concern, but the United States has essentially banned use of Huawei network equipment domestically and pressured allies not to use it.
Meng’s arrest thrust Canada into the middle of a tense standoff between China and the United States, deeply damaging ties between Ottawa and Beijing and creating a foreign policy nightmare for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a time when he hoped to deepen economic ties with China.
Several days after Meng was taken into custody, China detained two Canadians, businessman Michael Kovrig and former diplomat Michael Spavor, in what Western officials have charged is a flagrant display of “hostage diplomacy.” Beijing later banned imports of some Canadian crops, including canola.
The “two Michaels,” as they are known in Canada, have been held in cramped cells in separate prisons and largely cut off from the outside world. They faced separate, secret trials in March on vague charges of spying and stealing state secrets. A Chinese court found Spavor guilty in August and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. A verdict for Kovrig has not yet been announced.
Trudeau called the verdict in the Spavor case “absolutely unacceptable and unjust” and said that the trial “did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.”
Meng’s attorneys had been fighting her extradition from Canada to the United States; a Canadian judge was set to schedule her decision on that issue later this fall.
Meng’s father, Ren, is one of China’s most powerful businessmen. In an interview with The Washington Post in December 2019 at Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters, Ren offered brief and guarded remarks about her arrest.
Meng’s mother, husband and daughter had all been to Vancouver to visit her, but Ren said that he had only spoken with her on the phone. Asked if he, too, was afraid of being arrested, he said “there is no reason for the U.S. to arrest me.”
“There’s no need for me to be physically there to see my daughter,” he added. “I think making a phone call is the same as seeing her in person.”
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Coletta reported from Toronto. The Washington Post’s Jeanne Whalen contributed to this report from Washington.