OTTAWA — American authorities are facing a key deadline at the end of the month to formally request the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou from Canada to the United States.
Friday, a spokesman for Canada's Justice Department said the U.S. had yet to file the required paperwork in the Meng case and stated the Americans have until Jan. 30 to do so. If the U.S. misses the deadline, lawyers with expertise in extradition cases say the door could open for Meng's eventual release.
Canadian police arrested Meng at Vancouver's airport Dec. 1 at the request of American authorities, who are seeking her extradition on fraud allegations. They say she lied to American banks as part of a scheme to get Huawei business around United States sanctions against Iran.
Her arrest has infuriated Beijing and the case is at the centre of an increasingly testy diplomatic dispute between Canada and China. The Chinese government says Meng has done nothing wrong and has demanded her release, warning Canada of severe consequences if it doesn't free her.
Under Canada's extradition law, the U.S. was given 60 days from the date of Meng's arrest to make its formal extradition request.
"The formal request for extradition (including the supporting documents) has not yet been made by the United States," Ian McLeod, a spokesman for Canada's Justice Department, wrote in an email Thursday.
"They have until Jan. 30, 2019 to submit this request. Canada then has a further 30 days to determine whether to issue an authority to proceed."
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to say very much about the Meng case except that it's not affected by the partial shutdown of the federal government there. Thousands of federal workers have been sent home without pay because of a budget stalemate between Congress and President Donald Trump.
"We have no comment other to say that the current operating situation has no impact on our filing preparations," the department's public-affairs office said.
Watch: Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei broke years of silence to comment on the arrest of his daughter. Story continues below.
Gary Botting, a Vancouver lawyer with significant experience in extradition cases, said recently appointed federal Justice Minister David Lametti would have an obligation to discharge Meng if the U.S. misses the deadline.
"If it hasn't arrived in the 60 days then every journalist in town should be jumping up and down to insist that Meng get discharged according to the act," Botting said in an interview. "That's what the act says... The minister must discharge them according to the rule."
Meng's case, Botting added, remains in a "political stage" and won't go before the courts — and into the "legal stage" — until Lametti makes the decision to introduce an authority to proceed.
Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, is out on $10 million bail and is staying at her Vancouver home. She has been ordered to appear in a Vancouver courtroom on Feb. 6 to fix a date for further proceedings.
The Americans... having caused all of this so far — would never be able to say with a straight face, 'Yeah, we've decided not to go ahead' or 'Gosh, there was nothing to our case.'Donald Bayne, lawyer
Lawyer Donald Bayne, who represented Ottawa professor Hassan Diab as he fought extradition on French terrorism charges for years, said it's not particularly unusual that U.S. authorities had yet to submit the formal request for Meng so late in the 60-day period.
He thinks they'll make the deadline.
"The Americans... having caused all of this so far — would never be able to say with a straight face, 'Yeah, we've decided not to go ahead' or 'Gosh, there was nothing to our case,' " said Bayne, who's based in Ottawa.
In the days that followed Meng's arrest, China detained two Canadians. Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, were taken in on vague allegations of engaging in activities that have endangered China's national security.
China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case. He was originally sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year term, but the court delivered the new sentence after reconsidering his case.
Western analysts believe the arrests and the death sentence are part of an attempt by Beijing to pressure Canada into releasing Meng.
Bayne said he doesn't think Meng's case would end even if the Americans missed their deadline — but comments by Trump might do it.
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He noted how last month the U.S. president raised questions about the basis of the extradition request by musing in an interview with Reuters about interfering in Meng's case if it would help him strike a trade deal with China.
Meng's legal team could argue Trump's remarks, which essentially made her a "human bargaining chip," indicated an abuse of process.
On the U.S.-China trade front, the deadline in the Meng case will coincide with high-level negotiations between Washington and Beijing, said the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
China's Vice-Premier Liu He, the country's economic point person, is scheduled to travel to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Jan. 30 and 31 for a round of talks. They will meet as their two countries are locked in a tariff conflict that's rattled the global economy.
With files from James McCarten in Washington and The Associated Press
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