By Sarah Berman
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – A Canadian police officer involved in the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou two years ago in a U.S. extradition case testified on Monday he did not plan to obtain her mobile phone passcodes or search her electronic devices.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Constable Gurvinder Dhaliwal told a Canadian court that he and his partner were “discreet” about their contact with Canadian border officials on the eve of Meng’s arrest on Dec. 1, 2018.
He said they discussed collecting Meng’s phone and other electronic devices and putting them in protective bags, but that he did not ask the border agents to get passcodes.
Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) superintendent Sowmith Katragadda had previously testified that he requested Meng’s phone and laptop passcodes and she provided them voluntarily.
Meng, 48, is accused of misleading the bank HSBC Holdings PLC on Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business affairs in Iran, allegedly causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions. If extradited, Meng will face trial for fraud in the Eastern District of New York.
She denies the charges and is fighting them from under house arrest in Vancouver, arguing the arrest itself was the product of political interference.
Huawei lawyers are seeking evidence to support their case that Meng’s rights were violated before her arrest. In a document submitted to the court last year, CBSA admitted making an “error” in sharing the passcodes with RCMP.
Dhaliwal said it was his job to secure the devices after the CBSA examination was complete and Meng was in custody. He said he retrieved the devices along with a piece of paper with passcodes on it.
A border agent handed him the paper, but they did not discuss how the device passcodes were collected.
Asked if he requested the passcodes, Dhaliwal replied, “Absolutely not,” adding that he was not concerned about the presence of the piece of paper stating the passcodes. “I didn’t even think about it. I just put it with the phones.”
Dhaliwal told the court that days after the arrest he received an email from RCMP staff sergeant Ben Chang requesting the make, model, and serial numbers, as well as photos of the devices, which Dhaliwal retrieved. Chang has declined to appear for testimony. Court documents showed that the government initially declined to release notes relating to him to Huawei lawyers, citing witness safety.
Dhaliwal testified that he was never asked for passcodes, and did not look at the contents of the devices.
In the afternoon defense lawyer Scott Fenton pressed Dhaliwal about his travel to the airport on the eve of Meng’s arrival at Vancouver International Airport.
Dhaliwal said the main purpose of his trip was to find out whether Meng was on the flight. Fenton countered by telling Dhaliwal he could have learned whether Meng’s plane took off with a “simple Google search.”
Dhaliwal also said he did not pay close attention during a briefing with the Department of Justice on the eve of Meng’s arrest, nor did he spend much time reading the provisional warrant before the arrest.
Meng’s lawyers are fighting to get her extradition dismissed on the basis of alleged abuses of process, arguing they constitute violations of her civil rights and that U.S. and Canadian officials coordinated before her arrest.
Officers with the CBSA testified last week that their questioning of Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, followed standard procedures and was separate from any action by law enforcement.
This week’s witness testimony is expected to last until Friday, when a series of police witnesses will speak of their role in Meng’s arrest.
Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing have degraded in the wake of Meng’s arrest. China arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on espionage charges days later.
Meng’s extradition hearing is set to wrap up in April 2021.
(Reporting by Sarah Berman; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Stephen Coates)