Canada has begun the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States – the latest move in a case that has roiled relations between the North American neighbours and China.
Beijing was quick to react, saying Canada’s action amounted to a “severe political incident.”
The 47-year-old businesswoman was changing planes in Vancouver in December when she was detained at Washington’s request on suspicion of violating US sanctions on Iran – sparking arrests of Canadians in China that were seen as retaliatory.
“Today, Department of Justice Canada officials issued an Authority to Proceed, formally commencing an extradition process in the case of Meng Wanzhou,” the government said in a statement.
Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, is due in court on 6 March, when prosecutors will present the evidence against her and lay out detailed arguments for her extradition.
The decision, the statement said, followed a “thorough and diligent” review which found sufficient evidence to warrant putting the matter before a judge.
At the end of the process – which could last months, or even years – Canada’s attorney general will have the final say on whether or not to hand Meng over.
Beijing has voiced its “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to Canada, which obstinately moves forward the so-called judicial extradition process.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement the US and Canada were “abusing their bilateral extradition treaty to apply arbitrary coercive measures against Chinese citizens, in violation of their rights and legitimate interests”.
“This is a severe political incident.”
China had “solemnly protested” to the Canadian authorities for Meng’s release, and called on the US to drop its arrest warrant and extradition request, Lu added.
Meng has been released on bail pending the outcome of the hearings.
China is furious over the US charges against Meng, saying they are the product of “strong political motivations” and an attempt to undermine its flagship telecoms company.
Huawei has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – in what was widely seen as an act of retaliation.
A third Canadian, meanwhile, had his sentence for drug trafficking upped from 15 years in prison to death row.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted on a strict hands-off approach to the issue, with his justice department stressing on Friday that “Canada is a country governed by the rule of law.”
Trudeau sacked his ambassador to China for undermining that position by saying Meng had a “strong” case against extradition, and later adding that it would be “great for Canada” if the US dropped the case.
In January, the US announced 13 charges against Meng, Huawei and two affiliates.
Officials separately filed 10 charges against two Huawei affiliates for allegedly stealing technology from T-Mobile.
Prosecutors say that between 2007 and 2017, Meng, Huawei and subsidiaries sought to mask their business with Iran in violation of US and UN sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Meng in particular “repeatedly lied” to bankers about the relationships between the companies, especially with Skycom, a Huawei affiliate in Iran, according to the charges.
That broke the law, justice officials in Washington said, because the Iran business involved US dollar transactions processed by banks through the United States.
Huawei and the affiliates lied to US authorities and obstructed the investigation, court documents say.
The company is also accused of a concerted effort to steal technology related to a phone-testing robot dubbed Tappy from a T-Mobile USA lab in Washington state, and of rewarding staff for stealing competitors’ technology secrets.