VANCOUVER — A lawyer for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou accused former U.S. president Donald Trump of co-opting her extradition proceedings in an effort to use her as leverage in trade negotiations with China.
Richard Peck told the British Columbia Supreme Court Wednesday that Trump's words to media after Meng's arrest amount to an abuse of process.
"The only words that will dilute what we say is a stain on these proceedings and on Canada's justice system is a stay of proceedings," Peck said, launching the first of several arguments Meng's team will make in the coming weeks seeking her release.
Meng was arrested at Vancouver's airport on Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of U.S. officials on charges of fraud that both she and Huawei deny.
Ten days after her arrest, Trump was asked if the United States would intervene in Meng's case to get a better deal with China.
"If I think it’s good for what will be the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary," Trump told Reuters news agency.
The comment did not exist in isolation, but was the first in a string of repeated statements that demonstrate an ulterior motive, Peck said.
"With that utterance, Ms. Meng became a bargaining chip, a pawn in this economic contest between these two superpowers. Those words amount to the opening salvo in this trade war," Peck told the court.
But a lawyer for the attorney general of Canada, who represents the United States in the case, said the argument is irrelevant now that Trump is out of office, the trade deal is done and there's been no evidence of intervention.
Robert Frater said even if that weren't the case, Trump's "vague" comments do not support an abuse of process allegation.
"They never had a basis for this argument," Frater told the court. "There's nothing remotely threatening in anything that was said."
Wednesday marked the beginning of arguments by Meng's legal team that claim she was subjected to an abuse of process in four different ways and that the proceedings against her should be stayed if any is proven.
The case culminates with the actual extradition hearing in May.
Peck told the court that Trump's words came in the context of a long-brewing technological race with China in which Huawei threatened to dominate 5G networks worldwide.
They cast a pall over court proceedings, reducing Meng from a human being to "chattel" and striking at the heart of human dignity, he said.
The comments also make the case unique, he said.
"In the annals of extradition law, it appears to be the first time the head of a requesting state has commented directly on the plight of a person sought" and publicly stated a willingness or intent to intervene for any reason, let alone an economic one, Peck said.
Peck gave several other examples that he said adds to the cumulative effect of Trump's initial comment on the case.
Nearly three months after Meng's arrest, Trump was asked if the United States would drop charges against the Huawei executive as part of a trade deal during a press conference with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He.
"We’re going to be discussing all of that during the course of the next couple of weeks," Trump said, adding that at the moment, it was not something being discussed.
In June 2019, Trump was asked again about Huawei's role in trade negotiations.
"We're leaving Huawei toward the end. We'll see where we go with the trade agreement," Trump said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's own comments on the case also came under scrutiny Wednesday. Meng's team pointed to a December 2019 statement that the U.S. and China should not finalize a deal until the issue of Meng and two Canadians detained in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, is settled.
"That is hardly in accordance with the rule of law," said Mona Duckett, another lawyer for Meng.
But Frater accused Meng's team of cherry-picking and adding meaning to a statement amid a sea of other clear and consistent messaging from the prime minister that Canada respects the rule of law.
"The statements made by the prime minister in my respectful submission have always tried to draw a distinction between this case and any other political considerations."
Trump's comments are also inconsistent with statements made by other knowledgeable government officials, such as the then-acting attorney general, secretary of state and lead negotiator on U.S. trade talks with China, Frater said.
The Biden administration has also consistently indicated a respect for the rule of law, Frater said. He pointed to comments from the secretary of state, White House press secretary and Justice Department all indicating the Meng's case is the jurisdiction of the courts, not politicians.
"The idea that you could make a claim that there is a need to intervene now because there has been no renunciation of this position is simply not credible," Frater said.
Frater will continue his response Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press