Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou's comfy house arrest masks darker reality

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaving her home while out on bail in Vancouver last week.
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaving her home while out on bail in Vancouver last week.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

VANCOUVER • Meng Wanzhou steps out of her US$4.2 million (S$5.7 million) mansion, with a Global Positioning System (GPS) monitor strapped to her ankle, and slips into a chauffeured black sport utility vehicle.

Then she is off, largely free to roam the shops and restaurants within 260 sq km of Vancouver until her 11pm curfew.

So goes another day of house arrest for Meng, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies and daughter of the billionaire founder of China's biggest telecommunications manufacturer. It is, by all appearances, a comfortable life for someone at the centre of a complex power game.

Meng's arrest at the behest of the United States - which wants her extradited on grounds that she tricked banks into potentially violating Iran sanctions - has sparked an unprecedented diplomatic row.

Nine days after her Dec 1 arrest during a stopover in Vancouver, China detained two Canadians on national security grounds. And this week, a China court imposed a death sentence, following a one-day trial, on a Canadian found guilty of drug smuggling.

How Meng's case will be resolved remains unclear, though she has become an object of fascination in a city where her family owns two homes and where she spent downtime when she was not running Huawei's finances.

Tourists stop by to take selfies outside her home, which is near a 810ha park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where she is ensconced with her husband and daughter.

 
 

Meng's bail terms include the GPS monitor, an 11pm to 6am curfew, and 24-hour surveillance by a private security firm, Lions Gate Risk Management Group.

The firm's job is to ensure that she does not violate the conditions of her release. She pays the hefty bill for that monitoring, which includes two guards at a time and a driver.

"If I were on The Price Is Right, I'd say that's about US$7,000 a day", or more than US$2.5 million a year, said former police detective Nicholas Casale, referencing the game show.

Meng's long leash following her C$10 million (S$10.2 million) bail is unusual, he said - normally, the defendant's movements and communications would be restricted. "You can't just go to dinner or go shopping," he added.

Meng is faring better than the two Canadians detained in China, who have had scant consular access.

Still, the outings and postcard views mask a darker reality for Meng: This extradition process could drag on for months, and possibly years, if history is any guide. And the odds are high that she will be extradited in the end.

"The tilt of the Crown in these cases is extradite, extradite, extradite," said Professor Robert Currie at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who specialises in international law.

The US must turn over its formal extradition request by the end of this month. It has not made the request yet, a Justice Department spokesman said in an e-mail on Thursday.

Canada's Justice Minister David Lametti can reject the request or order extradition hearings to begin. It is not clear if that will happen before Meng's next court date next month.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'Comfy house arrest masks darker reality'. Print Edition | Subscribe