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Huawei CFO Sues Canada for Alleged Wrongful Detention

Natalie Obiko Pearson and Josh Wingrove

(Bloomberg) -- The Huawei Technologies Co. chief financial officer whose detention in Canada has sparked a diplomatic standoff has filed a civil lawsuit against Canadian authorities, alleging she was wrongfully detained and searched.

Meng Wanzhou claims that her constitutional rights were breached and is seeking damages for an ordeal she says amounted to “false imprisonment.” The suit was filed March 1 in the Supreme Court of British Columbia against the Canadian Border Services Agency, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and the Canadian government.

Meng’s suit comes as China ratchets up pressure on two Canadians who were seized nine days after Meng’s initial arrest. China now says that Michael Kovrig is suspected of stealing state secrets, and that Michael Spavor fed him information. A third Canadian man has also been sentenced to death on drug charges in China since Meng’s arrest.

The Canadian legal notice filed by Meng’s lawyers alleges that the police officer and several border guards detained, searched and interrogated her under the guise of a routine customs or immigration case, and used “that opportunity to unlawfully compel her to provide evidence and information.” It alleges they did so without immediately arresting her under the warrant to avoid affording Meng her constitutional rights.

Instead, according to the complaint, the officers detained the Huawei CFO on the jetway Dec. 1 as she was getting off a flight, took away two phones, an iPad and a computer, then got her to surrender the passwords to those devices. She was formally arrested only about three hours after her initial detention, the claim says.

The claim was filed the same day Canada’s government agreed to proceed to an extradition hearing at the request of the U.S., which alleges Meng lied to banks to trick them into processing transactions for Huawei that potentially violated Iran trade sanctions. The complaint comes as China’s largest tech company is increasingly playing offense to counter accusations it aids Beijing in espionage -- something it’s always denied. In recent weeks, senior executives have taken shots at America’s own surveillance efforts, invited foreign media to speak with its reclusive founder, and even tweeted directly at Donald Trump.

Demands Release

China has accused Canada of abetting “a political persecution” against Huawei and has demanded the release of Meng, daughter of billionaire company founder Ren Zhengfei. History shows that if Canada follows the letter of its law, Meng will likely eventually be extradited. Meanwhile, Trump has muddied the legal waters with conflicting statements on whether he might try to intervene in what’s supposed to be an independent law enforcement operation in order to boost a China trade deal.

Canada’s justice department referred requests to the border services agency, which declined to comment Sunday. On March 6, Meng is scheduled to appear in a Vancouver court, which will likely set the date for her first hearing in the extradition case.

Phone Devices

Meng was arrested in Vancouver after getting off a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong, while on her way to Mexico. The claim alleges the Chinese telecom executive was not informed promptly of the reasons for her detention, nor given an opportunity to contact a lawyer.

The officials “unlawfully opened and viewed the contents of the seized devices in violation of the plaintiff’s right to privacy” and also “performed a thorough, invasive and focused search of all of the plaintiff’s luggage,” the claim alleges. It says that officials interrogated her over two sessions.

The police officer “intentionally delayed the arrest for the purpose of allowing the unlawful” detention in Vancouver under the false pretense of a routine border check, it alleges.

The claim states that Meng’s rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated. Meng, who remains under house arrest in Vancouver, suffered “mental distress, anxiety and loss of liberty,” it says. The claim seeks declarations that her Charter rights were infringed, various damages and costs, all unspecified.

(Updates with details of detained Canadians in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Esteban Duarte.

To contact the reporters on this story: Natalie Obiko Pearson in Vancouver at npearson7@bloomberg.net;Josh Wingrove in Ottawa at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Scanlan at dscanlan@bloomberg.net

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