Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, has reportedly boarded a flight back to China nearly three years after she was detained in Canada.
The 49-year-old's release came after she accepted a deal with U.S. prosecutors to admit wrongdoing in the fraud case against her, media outlets globally have reported.
Why was she detained in the first place?
Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested by Canadian authorities while changing planes at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018, at the request of the United States, reported The New York Times (NYT).
According to the BBC, the criminal fraud charges against Meng are centred around claims that she put a bank, HSBC, at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran by misleading them on Huawei's relationship with a company called Skycom.
Two Canadian men — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor — were detained and imprisoned by Chinese authorities nine days after Meng's arrest in Canada, reported NYT.
The Chinese government accused them of espionage, but critics have viewed the arrests as retaliation for Canada's detention of Meng, the BBC reported.
Meng spent majority of the past nearly three years in her multimillion-dollar Vancouver home, out on bail of 10 million Canadian dollars (S$10.7 million).
The NYT wrote that while she wore a GPS ankle tracker and had a curfew of 11pm, Meng was able to move around Vancouver "fairly easily" and even dined out in a restaurant with her family. She also reportedly had private painting lessons and massages in her seven-room mansion.
Meng's release and the subsequent release of the Canadians
In exchange for prosecutors deferring and later dropping the fraud charges, Meng admitted in court via videoconferencing on Friday (Sep. 24) to some wrongdoing, reported the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
The Financial Times (FT) stated that Meng admitted to misleading HSBC in 2013 by describing Skycom as a "business partner" and a "third party Huawei works with" in Iran, when in reality it was acquired by an entity under the control of Huawei.
According to the WSJ, the acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Nicole Boeckmann, said:
"Meng’s admissions confirm the crux of the government’s allegations in the prosecution of this financial fraud — that Meng and her fellow Huawei employees engaged in a concerted effort to deceive global financial institutions, the U.S. government and the public about Huawei’s activities in Iran."
William Taylor III, one of the lawyers representing Meng, however said in a statement that Meng "has not pleaded guilty".
"I'm very pleased that Sabrina Meng and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) and it has been approved by Judge Donnelly...She has not pleaded guilty and we fully expect the indictment will be dismissed with prejudice after fourteen months. Now, she will be free to return home to be with her family."
FT reported that, in a statement outside of the courthouse in Vancouver, Meng spoke about the impact of the past three years on her life, which she said had been "turned upside down":
"It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and a company executive. [...] But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life."
It was widely reported that Meng got on a flight home to China soon after her hearing ended.
Both Kovrig and Spavor have also been released from Chinese detention, and are on a flight home to Canada, which is scheduled to land on Saturday morning, reported Al Jazeera.
"These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult situation, but it is inspiring and it is good news for all of us that they are on their way home to their families," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
Reactions from China
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on social media that he welcomes Meng's return to China.
CGTN, a Chinese state-owned international English-language news service, reported that Meng spoke in Mandarin to express gratitude to her home country and its people for their support and help.
"Without a strong motherland, I would not be free, as I am today," Meng told CGTN from the plane, which is expected to land in China.
U.S.-China relations and Huawei
The U.S. imposed sanctions on Huawei in 2019 which have reportedly "caused a lot of damage" to the company, reported the BBC.
The sanction, which cut the company off from crucial computing chips and software, were due to allegations by U.S. officials that Huawei gear could enable Chinese espionage, according to the WSJ.
However, Huawei has insisted repeatedly that its gear is safe, and that it would never spy for any government.
In 2020, the U.S. charged Huawei and two of its subsidiaries with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to steal trade secrets.
The WSJ described how the Trump administration saw Huawei as a threat to national security, and "portrayed [Meng]’s alleged coverup of ties in Iran as part of a pattern of corporate wrongdoing".
The NYT proposed that Meng's release could reduce some of the friction between China and the Biden administration.
Top photo via Don Mackinnon/AFP via Getty Images.
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