Fighting extradition, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou writes of 'moments of fear'

In a photo from Sept 23, 2019, Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou leaves for a lunch break during a hearing at the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, Canada. PHOTO: REUTERS

VANCOUVER (NYTIMES)- On the anniversary of her arrest, Huawei technology executive Meng Wanzhou has written a reflective, sometimes plaintive letter describing her year in detention in Vancouver as having "moments of fear, pain, disappointment, helplessness, torment, and struggle" but also acceptance and more time for herself.

Meng, 47, a former secretary at Huawei who rose to become its chief financial officer and public face of the company, was arrested in Vancouver last December after the United States had requested her extradition on fraud charges.

She has been freed on bail but is not permitted to leave Vancouver. She is accused, among other things, of deceiving four banks to enable Huawei to evade US sanctions against Iran.

"Over the past year, I have also learned to face up to and accept my situation," she wrote in the letter, which was published on Huawei's website on Sunday (Dec 1).

"I'm no longer afraid of the unknown."

Her arrest, she wrote, had radically changed her daily life, allowing more time for hobbies like reading and painting.

"When I was in Shenzhen, time used to pass by very quickly," she wrote, referring to Huawei's headquarters city in southern China.

"Every day, my schedule was fully packed and I was constantly rushing from place to place, and from meeting to meeting."

She continued: "Right now, time seems to pass slowly. It is so slow that I have enough time to read a book from cover to cover. I can take the time to discuss minutiae with my colleagues or to carefully complete an oil painting."

The arrest thrust Canada into the centre of a diplomatic struggle between China and the United States. China has detained - in retaliation, some say - two Canadians and accused them of espionage. It has also sentenced two other Canadians to death on drug-related accusations.

China cut off trade of Canadian canola oil and, for a time, halted beef and pork imports, though those restrictions were lifted in November.

The extradition hearing is scheduled to begin in January after months of hearings in which the prosecution and defence have wrangled over the circumstances of her arrest and the validity of the charges.

Meng has cut a glamorous figure in court, variously wearing casual outfits or colourful designer dresses.

On the day of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in September, she wore a bright red dress, adorned with an enamel Chinese flag pin. Her penchant for designer stiletto heels, sometimes with glitter on them, draws attention to the GPS-tracker on her left ankle that she has been ordered by the judge to wear to make sure she does not flee the country.

Yet the contrast between her gilded detention in Vancouver compared with the fate of the imprisoned Canadians in China has raised hackles in Canada.

While the Canadians are held in isolation in undisclosed locations, denied access to lawyers, and prevented from going outside or seeing sunlight, Meng has been out on bail of C$10 million (S$10.3 million) - and living in a gated, seven-bedroom mansion in the city's exclusive Shaughnessy neighbourhood.

The mansion, which Meng owns, has been estimated to be worth as much as C$16 million.

Meng is also able to travel relatively freely around the city.

In the letter, Meng thanked supporters and Huawei's customers for standing by her.

"In Chinese, the character for 'light' is composed of two parts: one that means fire, representing hope, and one that means people," she wrote.

"My dear friends, your warmth is a beacon that lights my way forward, and I appreciate it more than words can say."

She also paid tribute to Canadians and saluted the kindness of the security officers, both at the correctional facility where she was initially held and during her confinement under her bail terms.

Meng's lawyers have argued that her actions do not constitute a crime in Canada, a prerequisite for the case to succeed. Her defence also says Meng is the victim of an elaborate conspiracy by Canadian border agents and the FBI to arrest her in what they have characterised as a politically motivated case pressed by President Donald Trump to get a better trade deal with China.

The defence has also filed a civil case against Canadian authorities, arguing that her rights were breached when she was initially detained in Vancouver.

Canada has a record of granting about 90 per cent of extradition requests, and legal experts say Meng is likely to be extradited, though it could take months - or even years - for the courts to reach a final decision.

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