Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou, held in Canada since Dec. 2018 on U.S. extradition charges, was freed Friday.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
U.S.-China relations have been at their most strained in years. A court case that involved a Chinese citizen strained relations even further. Meng Wanzhou was the chief financial officer of Huawei. The U.S. accused her of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. She was held by Canada in December 2018 and for the past three years had been battling extradition to the U.S. Today, the Justice Department reached an agreement to drop the extradition request in return for the – in return for Meng Wanzhou to admit some wrongdoing. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has followed this case from the very start and joins us now. And, Jackie, can we start with a little bit more background on this chief financial officer of such an enormous company, Huawei, and the allegations in this case?
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, as you say, Meng Wanzhou is the chief financial officer, but she’s also the daughter of the founder of Huawei. And, you know, this is no ordinary company. Huawei is the world’s largest telecommunication equipment maker and really is considered one of China’s crown jewels. So it was a huge deal when Washington asked Canada to detain and extradite Meng to the U.S. in 2018. You know, it happened during the Trump administration, and prosecutors accused her with bank and wire fraud. They said she had misled financial institutions about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran. And Canada granted the U.S. request. And Meng has been under house arrest in Vancouver ever since while her extradition case was moving through the courts.
CORNISH: What was decided in court today?
NORTHAM: Well, the hearing was a video conference. Meng was in a Vancouver courtroom during that. And she was actually using an interpreter as well, going from English to Mandarin. Meng has agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, and as part of that, she pleaded not guilty, but she did acknowledge that she misled some financial institutions about Huawei’s dealings with Iran. So federal prosecutors will defer prosecution, and if she complies with all of the obligations under that deal, the U.S. will drop the charges against her in just over a year. So Meng will be released from her house arrest in Vancouver. She has two multimillion-dollar homes in the city, by the way. And at some point, she’ll be able to return to China, but it’s really unclear at this point when that will happen, whether it’s now or whether once all the charges are dropped.
CORNISH: Stepping back for a moment, this had an impact on U.S.-China relations. So does today’s development – is that a step in a more positive direction? What does it mean?
NORTHAM: Well, it certainly could be. You know, as I said, Huawei is an incredibly important company in China. And Meng Wanzhou’s shows case, you know, has come up in several high-level meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials. There was always a sense that Meng was a pawn in U.S.-China relations. The U.S. considers Huawei a national security threat because of its ties to the Chinese government. And, you know, Meng’s arrest was seen by many as just one more way to bring the company down. In fact, former President Donald Trump said at one point that he would intervene in her case if it would help secure a trade deal.
CORNISH: One more thing. I understand that China held two Canadians in what was perceived as retaliation for getting involved by detaining Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. Will those Canadians be freed?
NORTHAM: Well, you’re right. I mean, Meng’s case put Canada in a really difficult position. Relations took a hit, but also, as you say, China detained those two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – just a couple of days after Meng was arrested. And, you know, they’re charged with and convicted with espionage. Kovrig has not been sentenced, but Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison. But, you know, interestingly, the language used in his sentencing left the impression that he could be deported. And, of course, now that’s the hope that this agreement between Meng and the DOJ will let the two men return to Canada.
CORNISH: That’s NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam.
Thanks so much.
NORTHAM: Thank you.
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