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‘Witness safety’ concern raises questions about key witness decision not to testify in Meng Wanzhou case

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general flagged a conversation involving a key RCMP witness who is refusing to testify at Meng Wanzhou’s extradition proceedings for concerns about “witness safety,” according to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Ben Chang was living and working in the Chinese gambling haven of Macau when his name first arose in relation to Meng’s extradition proceedings last fall as the officer who dealt with demands for information from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Chang’s actions sit at the heart of a mystery that the Huawei executive’s lawyers believe could hold the key to ending attempts to render her to the United States.

They have accused Chang of sharing technical details from Meng’s electronic devices with the FBI in the days after her arrest at Vancouver’s airport in violation of her rights and Canada’s Extradition Act.

A reference to ‘witness safety’

Meng is charged with fraud in the United States for allegedly lying to an HSBC executive about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Prosecutors claim that by relying on her alleged lies to continue a financial relationship with Huawei, HSBC was placed at risk of loss and prosecution.

CBSA officers seized Meng Wanzhou’s laptop along with her phones and other electronic devices. Her defence team claims technical information connected to the devices was later sent to the FBI. (B.C. Supreme Court)

At the time of her arrest on Dec. 1, 2018, Meng’s laptop, tablet and phones were taken by the RCMP. 

A legal attaché with the FBI asked for the technical details associated with the devices — information the defence says he would normally have to obtain through official channels.

Chang swore an affidavit denying any wrongdoing — but his version of events was contradicted by the notes of another officer that suggested a colleague told her Chang forwarded the information to the FBI.

Earlier this week, defence lawyer Richard Peck revealed that Chang had retained counsel and informed Meng’s legal team and the Crown that the retired officer would not be testifying. 

No reason was given, but Peck said the decision would be of “some concern” to the defence.

On Wednesday, in a reference found in court documents unearthed by the South China Morning Post, it emerged that the Crown had objected to the release of notes about a conversation between Chang and a lawyer with the Department of Justice, in part because of “witness safety.”

‘Attempts to conceal their misdeed’

The two-word reference is found in a spreadsheet prepared in April included in 239 pages of submissions filed this summer in advance of arguments over the release of documents, e-mails, notes and other records related to the high-profile case.

The document is a summary of an October 2019 phone call between Chang and Department of Justice lawyer Kerry Swift. The concerns are not explained and the document was later released to Meng’s lawyers, although not to the public.

This reference to a conversation between a Department of Justice lawyer and retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Ben Chang was referenced in a spreadsheet that notes concerns about ‘witness safety.’. (B.C. Supreme Court)

Chang could not be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, Chinese foreign minister Zhao Lijian was asked at his daily briefing about Chang’s decision not to testify.

“We have noted relevant reports. The Canadian side’s attempts to conceal their misdeed will only raise more doubts and give a clearer picture of the political nature of the Meng Wanzhou incident,” Zhao told reporters.

He later went on to to accuse Canada of playing “dumb with constantly emerging questionable points in the Meng Wanzhou incident.”

‘I understood that this was a serious case’

Two Canada Border Services Agency officers who questioned the 48-year-old in the hours before her arrest testified Wednesday about their involvement in the case.

A defence lawyer accused Supt. Sanjit Dhillon of lying about coming up with questions related to Huawei’s Iranian business through a Google search that led him to the “controversies” section on the company’s Wikipedia page.

Dhillon denied suggestions that he asked questions at the behest of the RCMP.

And CBSA officer Sowsmith Katragadda, who took the lead in Meng’s questioning, said he was aware that other agencies might want access to information gleaned through his questions but told the RCMP that they would have to go through official channels.

Katragadda told a Crown lawyer he wanted to make sure that the CBSA conducted an exam into Meng’s admissibility into Canada that was separate from the RCMP arrest in relation to extradition.

“I wanted to be clear for when it got to court,” Katragadda said. “I understood that this was a serious case.”


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