SHENZHEN, China – The Chinese government eagerly awaited the return of a top executive from global communications giant Huawei Technologies on Saturday following what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner swap with Canada and the United States
Meng Wanzhou, 49, chief financial officer of Huawei and daughter of the company founder, has reached a deal with U.S. federal prosecutors that asked for the fraud charges against her to be quashed next year. As part of the deal, known as the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, she accepted responsibility for distorting the company’s business relationship in Iran.
On the same day, two Canadian citizens detained by Beijing were released and flown back to Canada.
Meng was due to arrive at the southern tech hub of Shenzhen, where Huawei is based, on Saturday evening.
Her imminent return was a major topic on the Chinese internet and in the midday news program of the public broadcaster CCTV, presenter Tian Liang claiming that Meng was returning home thanks to “the Chinese government’s unremitting efforts.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reposted on social media a report about Meng’s departure from Canada, adding “Welcome home.”
In an emailed statement, Huawei said it looked forward to Meng’s return and “will continue to defend against the allegations.”
The company also sent a statement from Meng’s attorney, William W. Taylor III, claiming that Meng had “not pleaded guilty and we expect the indictment to be dismissed with prejudice after fourteen months. “.
Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng in connection with a US extradition request. China charged them with endangering national security and sentenced Kovrig to 11 years in prison, although their arrests were widely seen as Beijing’s attempt to gain the upper hand in the Meng case.
“These two men have gone through an incredibly difficult ordeal. Over the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by it,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.
The case had caused a huge rift in Sino-Canadian relations, with Beijing regularly launching swords against the Canadian legal system and banning some imports from the country. In addition, two Canadians convicted in separate drug cases in China were sentenced to death in 2019. A third, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was brutally increased to the death penalty after the arrest of Meng. It was not immediately clear whether these prisoners could be granted a reprieve.
In Shenzhen, 20-year-old job seeker at Huawei headquarters repeated the government’s view that Meng’s arrest was motivated by politics and rivalry with the United States over technology and global influence .
“I think (this) had to stop the development of Huawei in the world,” said the man, who only gave his last name, Wang, as is often the case with Chinese speaking to foreign media. “This is a very important reason – no one wants other countries to have better technology than themselves.”
The frenzied chain of events involving the world powers has brought an abrupt end to the legal and geopolitical feuds that, over the past three years, have disrupted relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa.
Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of network equipment for telephone and internet companies and a symbol of China’s progress to become a global technological powerhouse that has received massive support from the government. It has also been the subject of security and law enforcement concerns in the United States, with officials and analysts claiming that it and other Chinese companies flouted international rules and standards and stole documents. technologies and vital personal information.
The case against Meng stems from a January 2019 indictment by the Justice Department of the administration of former President Donald Trump. He accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions. The indictment also accused Meng herself of committing fraud by misleading HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The indictment came amid a broader Trump administration crackdown on Huawei over concerns from the US government that the company’s products could facilitate Chinese espionage. The administration cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology, including Google Music and other smartphone services, and subsequently banned vendors around the world from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has maintained a hard line on Huawei and other Chinese companies whose technology is considered to pose national security risks.
Huawei has repeatedly denied claims by the US government and safety concerns with its products.
As part of the deal with Meng, which was leaked in federal court in Brooklyn, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss fraud charges against her in December 2022 – exactly four years after her arrest – on condition that it comply with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations. The Justice Department also agreed to drop her request for Meng’s extradition to the United States, which she had vigorously contested, ending a process that prosecutors say could have persisted for months. .
After appearing by videoconference for her hearing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Meng appeared briefly in court in Vancouver, where she had been released on bail living in a multi-million dollar mansion while the two Canadians were detained. in Chinese prison cells where the lights were on 24 hours a day.
Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed his gratitude to the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience.”
“Over the past three years my life has been turned upside down,” she said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, wife and business owner. But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It was truly an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes. that I received. “
A video was also posted online in China of Meng speaking at Vancouver International Airport, saying; “Thank you motherland, thank you to the people of the motherland. You have been my greatest pillar of support.”
Soon after, Meng left on an Air China flight to Shenzhen.
Associated Press editors Eric Tucker in Washington, Rob Gillies in Toronto, Jim Mustain in New York, and Jim Morris in Vancouver, Canada, contributed to this report.