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Meng's lawyers ask court to ease surveillance in bail agreement

VANCOUVER — Lawyers for Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou have asked British Columbia's Supreme Court to ease her bail conditions as she fights extradition to the United States.

VANCOUVER — Lawyers for Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou have asked British Columbia's Supreme Court to ease her bail conditions as she fights extradition to the United States.

Her husband, Liu Xiaozong, testified Tuesday that he believes Meng is at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 because of her proximity to members of her private security detail whenever she leaves home.

He said his wife is a survivor of thyroid cancer and has hypertension. He told the court their children are also afraid of being publicly identified during visits to Vancouver due to the presence of private security.

Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, was released on bail shortly after she was arrested in December 2018 at Vancouver's airport by Canadian officials acting on a U.S. warrant.

Meng's lawyers want her to be allowed to leave the couple's Vancouver home without the security detail from Lions Gate Risk Management outside the hours of her curfew, which runs between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. She also wears an electronic monitoring device and is limited to visiting certain parts of Vancouver.

"We're not seeking to vary the physical and electronic surveillance of her residence, but allowing her to leave without having to be in a vehicle with Lions Gate and wherever she goes, followed by several Lions Gate personnel," said William Smart, a member of her defence team.

The court heard Tuesday that Liu has been in Vancouver since October, while their children joined them in December with plans to return to Hong Kong next month.

Speaking English and aided by an interpreter, Liu said he has seen people taking photos of his wife "many times" during outings.

Under cross-examination by John Gibb-Carsley, a lawyer for Canada's attorney general, Liu agreed he's able to spend time with his wife at home within curfew hours. He also agreed that Meng can still go out to restaurants, shop and socialize outside her curfew hours in the geographic area approved by the court.

Gibb-Carsley questioned Liu about the public health protocols he followed after travelling to Vancouver in October, suggesting that if Liu “truly had a concern that (Meng) was at a higher risk of COVID-19,” he wouldn’t have self-isolated at their home upon his arrival.

Liu disagreed and said Meng didn’t want him to quarantine at a hotel.

Gibb-Carsley also asked about a photograph of Meng in a group of people outside the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver in May around the time a decision was expected on whether the extradition case would proceed.

Liu told the court he counted 11 people in the photo, some of whom he recognized as members of Meng’s team in Vancouver.

He agreed with Gibb-Carsley that while the pandemic was “present” in B.C. at the time the photo was taken, the people in the photo were not wearing face masks or practising physical distancing.

Gibb-Carsley asked if Liu was aware that arrangements were made to take Meng back to China if the court ruled in her favour at the time with a plane chartered from China Southern Airlines.

“Yes,” said Liu.

The president of Lions Gate Risk Management, Doug Maynard, testified Tuesday he is regularly briefed by staff assigned to Meng, who is responsible for paying for the security detail.

Questioned by Gibb-Carsley, Maynard told the court his staff observed Meng dining at restaurants in groups of 10 or more people last month.

"That would appear to be not consistent with, I would say, good strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID," he said, pointing to B.C. public health rules that prohibit gatherings between people from different households.

Maynard said the company has implemented health and safety protocols, including frequent sanitization of the vehicle Meng travels in and daily temperature checks for members of her security detail.

The company was made aware early in the pandemic that Meng had "underlying health issues," said Maynard, though he didn't have details.

He said they perform their highest level of COVID protocol wherever their staff are in her presence.

A Lions Gate employee who remains in the security team's "control van" outside Meng's home tested positive for COVID-19 while on leave and did not return to work until a medical professional signed off, he said.

Maynard told the court that the primary risk when Meng was first released on bail in December 2018 was that she might try to flee. Other considerations included her “extraction” from Canada, as well as threats of extortion or harm to Meng.

Asked if those concerns still exist from his perspective, Maynard said “I believe they do."

Meng is facing extradition to the United States on fraud charges, which both she and Huawei deny. U.S. officials allege she misrepresented the company's business dealings in Iran, putting HSBC bank at risk of violating American sanctions against that country.

Meng's lawyers are fighting her extradition on a number of fronts, including arguing that she was subjected to abuse of process during her arrest and should be freed.

In addition to arguing that Meng's arrest was unlawful, they also allege that U.S. authorities misrepresented their case against her to Canada, and that Meng was used as a political pawn by U.S. President Donald Trump. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press