Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers claim key RCMP witness refusing to testify at extradition hearing

Lawyers for Meng Wanzhou claim a retired RCMP staff sergeant with crucial knowledge about alleged information sharing between Canadian and U.S. authorities is refusing to testify at the Huawei executive’s extradition proceedings.

Defence lawyer Richard Peck told the judge overseeing the case Monday that Ben Chang has retained counsel and informed the defence and the Crown that he will not be appearing in court to answer questions about alleged violations of Meng’s rights.

“That is a matter that will be of some concern to all parties, particularly the defence,” Peck told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.

“There may be any number of consequences from his refusal to testify.”

Alleged rights violations

According to documents previously filed in the case, Chang was the head of the RCMP’s Financial Integrity Unit at the time of Meng’s arrest at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1, 2018.

Meng was picked up on an extradition warrant for fraud and conspiracy charges related to allegations she lied to an HSBC executive about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

CBSA officers seized Meng Wanzhou’s laptop, along with her phones and other electronic devices. The defence claims RCMP shared technical information from the devices with the FBI. (B.C. Supreme Court)

Prosecutors claim HSBC continued a financial relationship with the Chinese telecommunications firm based on Meng’s alleged lies, placing the bank at risk of loss and prosecution for breaching the same set of U.S. sanctions.

Meng’s lawyers will be in court over the next few weeks, cross-examining RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency officers involved in her arrest, as they try to bolster their argument that Canadian and U.S. authorities conspired to mount a covert criminal investigation against the 48-year-old.

Meng was questioned for three hours without a lawyer by CBSA officers before she was arrested.

Her phones, tablet and laptop were also seized and a CBSA officer obtained the passcode for the phones — which he later claimed he gave to RCMP by mistake.

Inconsistencies set up ‘credibility contest’

Chang’s testimony was expected to address questions around the collection of electronic serial numbers and technical information related to Meng’s devices.

The defence claims a legal attaché with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation told Chang the agency wanted the information — a request that would normally by considered through a mutual legal assistance treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

A still from a video of Meng Wanzhou filed as part of a defence application for access to documents. The video was taken during Meng’s first few hours in CBSA custody. (B.C. Supreme Court)

In an affidavit, Chang denied sending the technical information to the FBI.

But the notes of another officer — Sgt. Janice Vander Graaf — indicated that a colleague — Const. Gurvinder Dhaliwal — told her Chang had sent the information across the border.

In court documents, Meng’s lawyers claimed that the denials of any wrongdoing by the RCMP in relation to the technical information raised “many more questions than answers.” 

They also said “material inconsistencies” in the affidavits of Chang, Dhaliwal and Vander Graaf set up “a credibility contest” between the three officers.

Chang was retired and working in Macau at the time his role in the arrest was first raised in court proceedings last fall. He could not be reached for comment.

Alykhan Velshi, vice-president of corporate affairs at Huawei Canada, was in the courtroom Monday and spoke to reporters about Chang’s decision not to testify. 

“It’s concerning because we have the potential for essentially three conflicting statements from three different witnesses and everyone — no matter who they are — has the right to a fair hearing,” Velshi said.

“And an important part of a fair hearing is that all the evidence gets heard, not just the parts that one side wants to present.”

‘I wanted her to speak to it’

Two CBSA officers took the stand Monday. Supt. Bryce McRae oversaw operations on the day Meng was detained, and Supt. Sanjit Dhillon was one of the officers who asked questions.

McRae spent the morning under pointed cross-examination from defence lawyer Mona Duckett, who accused the officer of fabricating evidence about the advice he claimed to have received from a supervisor.

Meng Wanzhou walks into B.C. Supreme Court, where a judge is overseeing extradition proceedings against the Huawei executive. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Duckett also pointed out the paucity of notes and recollections about what happened on the day of the arrest, suggesting that CBSA officers were under instruction to create as little paperwork as possible about the events.

The other officer, Dhillon, told a Crown lawyer that he conducted an “open source” search prior to Meng’s arrival by looking at Huawei’s Wikipedia page. He claimed to have learned about controversies including suspicions of espionage and the sanctions-related allegations.

Dhillon said he asked Meng questions about those issues when he spoke with her directly at a point when she wanted to know why the CBSA examination was taking so long.

He said Meng was “calm and open” at first, but then “became a little more closed off” as he began asking about Huawei’s activities in the United States.

Dhillon claimed Meng said the company didn’t sell its products in the U.S, but claimed she didn’t know why. He said he told her he found that hard to believe, and she admitted that it was because of security issues.

According to Dhillon’s statutory declaration, he also asked Meng questions about Huawei’s activities in Iran, but the Crown had not addressed that part of the examination by the time court wrapped for the day.

Dhillonn said he never asked Meng directly about the extradition arrest warrant and the U.S. charges— the reason she was about to be arrested.

“I wanted her to speak to it, if it came to her mind,” Dhillon said. “If my interview had continued, I would have gotten to that point.”

But instead, another officer told him the examination was over. And Meng was handed to the RCMP.

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