Judge refuses to remove Meng Wanzhou's security guards, who are tasked with preventing her escape

A Canadian judge has refused to order the removal of private security guards tasked with preventing Huawei Technologies Co. executive Meng Wanzhou from escaping when she leaves her Vancouver mansion.

Meng's lawyers had argued at a bail hearing in the Supreme Court of British Columbia earlier this month that travelling around the city in the same vehicle as the guards put Meng at risk of Covid-19.

But on Friday, Mr Justice William Ehrcke ordered that the 24-hour watch over Meng be maintained by Lions Gate Risk Management, both at her C$13.6 million (US$10.6 million) home in the exclusive neighbourhood of Shaughnessy, and whenever she leaves the property.

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He said the current conditions were "the minimum" required to prevent Meng escaping.

Meng Wanzhou, leaves her Vancouver mansion to attend a bail hearing in Vancouver on Friday. Photo: AFP alt=Meng Wanzhou, leaves her Vancouver mansion to attend a bail hearing in Vancouver on Friday. Photo: AFP

"I am satisfied the current arrangement ... does not pose an unacceptable health risk [to Meng]," said Ehrcke.

In his ruling, Ehrcke said he had been presented with no medical evidence that Meng - who had surgery for thyroid cancer in 2011 and suffers hypertension - was at greater risk from Covid-19 than any other 48-year-old woman.

Meng must also still abide by an 11pm to 6am curfew and wear a GPS tracker to make sure she does not leave the city.

Meng has been in Vancouver since her December 1, 2018, arrest at the city's airport by Canadian police acting on a US warrant. The chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies has been fighting a US extradition request for two years; American prosecutors want her sent to New York to face trial for fraud, a charge she denies.

The 24-hour presence of the guards - who are paid by Meng but act on behalf of the court - was one of the conditions imposed by Ehrcke when he originally freed her on C$10 million bail in 2018.

Ehrcke said on Friday that while Meng was unable to socially distance herself from her guards when she left her home, "she has the ability to self-isolate if she so chooses; except for attendance at court, she is not required to leave her residence".

"I am satisfied the current arrangement of being transported [to court] by Lions Gate personnel who are wearing masks does not pose an unacceptable health risk," said Ehrcke, noting that Meng's home was "not a great distance" from the downtown courthouse.

The judge said that the current bail conditions were substantially similar to those requested by Meng herself at the original hearing two years ago.

He rejected a series of other arguments that Meng deserved more freedom because her circumstances had changed.

Ehrcke referred to a case-law argument by Meng's lawyers, regarding the adjustment of bail conditions for another suspect on the basis of his compliance, in contrast to his previous criminality.

"[But] the situation in the case of Ms Meng is entirely different," said Ehrcke, who said he had originally noted in 2018 the absence of previous criminal behaviour by her.

"The fact that she has not breached her bail conditions does not represent a material change of circumstance," he said.

Likewise, the fact that the judge in Meng's extradition case had ruled there was an "air of reality" to arguments that she had suffered an abuse of process, did not reflect that the case was a strong one, merely that it could be made. This was no change in Meng's circumstances either, for the purposes of bail, Ehrcke said.

"The current bail conditions were carefully crafted in an attempt to mitigate the risk of flight by Ms Meng," who had "significant financial resources" at her disposal, said Ehrcke. "An integral component was the supervision and surveillance of Ms Meng by Lions Gate personnel when she is away from her residence".

He said it was significant that Lions Gate CEO Scot Filer was apparently not willing to support the change in bail conditions, in contrast to Flier's support for previous modifications to Meng's bail terms.

"I remain of the view that the current bail conditions are the minimum required to mitigate Ms Meng's risk of flight to an acceptable level. The application ... is dismissed," Ehrcke said.

Ehrcke ordered Meng to return to court on March 1 for the continuation of her extradition hearings.

Evidence in the bail hearing had been presented to Ehrcke on January 12 and 13, with Canadian government lawyers representing US interests in the case opposing the easing of Meng's conditions.

Meng's husband, Liu Xiaozong, testified that their two children, who are also staying at the Shaughnessy home, "are afraid of being identified by the public" because of the guards' presence.

Lions Gate president Douglas Maynard also testified, telling Ehrcke that the risks regarding Meng may have increased - not so much because she might intentionally breach her conditions, but because others might try to "extract" her from Canada.

The court heard descriptions of Meng's life in Vancouver, including private shopping at high-end Vancouver boutiques, and a Christmas celebration in which Meng booked out an entire Chinese restaurant in Richmond for her party of 14. There were also visits to her home by a masseuse and an art teacher.

When Meng and her lawyers mistakenly believed she was on the brink of being released last May, a Boeing 777 jet was chartered for her victory flight home to China, the court heard from the Crown lawyers and Maynard.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves the Supreme Court of British Columbia with her husband, Liu Xiaozong, during a break from a hearing in Vancouver on January 13. Photo: AP alt=Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, leaves the Supreme Court of British Columbia with her husband, Liu Xiaozong, during a break from a hearing in Vancouver on January 13. Photo: AP

Maynard also told the court that Meng had received death threats by mail last summer, in letters that contained bullets. When the Chinese consulate heard about the threats, it issued a demand to Canada's foreign ministry that Meng be released, he said.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, is accused by US prosecutors of defrauding HSBC by lying to the bank about Huawei's business dealings in Iran, putting the bank at risk of breaching US sanctions on the Middle Eastern country.

Her treatment has infuriated China, worsening relations between Canada and the US.

Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in China in December 2018 and have been charged with espionage, but Ottawa regards them as hostages. They are being held in prisons in Beijing and Dandong, near the North Korean border, respectively.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.