Huawei CFO, US reach deal on fraud charges

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, has reached a deal with US prosecutors.
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, has reached a deal with US prosecutors.

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou has reached an agreement with US prosecutors to end the bank fraud case against her, a move that allows her to leave Canada, relieving a point of tension between China and the United States.

The years-long extradition drama has been a central source of discord in increasingly rocky ties between Beijing and Washington, with Chinese officials signalling that the case needed to be dropped to help end a diplomatic stalemate between the world's top two powers.

The deal also opens US President Joe Biden up to criticism from China hawks in Washington who argue his administration is capitulating to China and one of its top companies at the centre of a global technology rivalry between the two countries.

Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on a US warrant, and was indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC in 2013 about the telecommunications equipment giant's business dealings in Iran.

Her arrest sparked a diplomatic storm and drew Canada into the fray when China arrested two Canadians, a businessman and a former diplomat, shortly after Meng was taken into custody. Beijing has denied publicly that the arrests are linked.

In an exclusive on Friday, Reuters reported that the US had reached a deferred prosecution agreement with Meng. Nicole Boeckmann, the acting US Attorney in Brooklyn, said that in entering into the agreement, "Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution."

The agreement pertains only to Meng, and the US Justice Department said it is preparing for trial against Huawei and looks forward to proving its case in court.

A spokeswoman for Huawei declined to comment.

A person familiar with the matter said Meng was flying back to China on Friday night.

At a hearing in Brooklyn federal court on Friday, which Meng attended virtually from Canada, Assistant US Attorney David Kessler said the government would move to dismiss the charges against her if she complies with all of her obligations under the agreement, which ends in December 2022. He added that Meng will be released on a personal recognisance bond, and that the United States plans to withdraw its request to Canada for her extradition.

Meng - the daughter of Huawei founder, Ren Zhengfei - pleaded not guilty to the charges in the hearing. When US District Court Judge Ann Donnelly later accepted the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng sighed audibly.

A Canadian judge later signed Meng's order of discharge, vacating her bail conditions and allowing her to go free after nearly three years of house arrest.

She was emotional after the judge's order, hugging and thanking her lawyers.

Speaking to supporters and reporters on the steps of the court afterward, Meng thanked the judge for her "fairness" and talked of how the case had turned her life "upside down".

Beyond solving a dispute between the United States and China, the agreement could also pave the way for the release of the two Canadians, businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who have been held in China. In August, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage.

Meng was confined to her expensive Vancouver home at night and monitored 24 hours a day by private security that she paid for as part of her bail agreement. Referred to by Chinese state media as the "Princess of Huawei," she was required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor her movements, which became fodder for the tabloids when it hung above her designer shoes.

By contrast, the Canadians' have had no access to the outside world beyond occasional consular visits, and their trials were held behind closed doors.

Australian Associated Press