You are here

THE BROAD VIEW

Huawei CFO enjoys life of luxury while under arrest

US wants to extradite her on grounds that she tricked banks into potentially violating sanctions against Iran

BT_20190119_HUAWEI19MZ0V_3672882.jpg
Nine days after Meng Wanzhou (above) was arrested during a stopover in Vancouver, China detained two Canadians on national security grounds. This week, a China court imposed a death sentence, following a one-day trial, on a Canadian found guilty of drug smuggling.

BT_20190119_HUAWEI19MZ0V_3672882.jpg
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig was one of two Canadians detained by Beijing shortly after Ms Meng’s arrest.

MENG Wanzhou steps out of her US$4.2 million Vancouver mansion, a GPS monitor strapped to her ankle, and slips into a chauffeured black SUV. Then she's off, largely free to roam the shops and restaurants within 160km of Vancouver until her 11pm curfew.

So goes another day of house arrest for Ms Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies and daughter of the billionaire founder of China's biggest telecom provider.

It is, by all appearances, a comfortable life for someone at the centre of a complex power game.

Her arrest at the behest of the US - which wants to extradite her on grounds that she tricked banks into potentially violating Iran sanctions - has sparked an unprecedented diplomatic row.

sentifi.com

Market voices on:

Nine days after her Dec 1 arrest during a stopover in Vancouver, China detained two Canadians on national security grounds.

This week, a China court imposed a death sentence, following a one-day trial, on a Canadian found guilty of drug smuggling.

How Ms Meng's case will be resolved remains unclear, although she has now become an object of fascination in a city where her family owns two homes and where she spent down time when she wasn't running Huawei's finances.

Tourists stop by to take selfies outside her home near a 2,000-acre park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where she is ensconced with her husband and daughter.

Her bail terms include the Global Positioning System (GPS) monitor, an 11pm to 6am curfew, and 24-hour surveillance by a private security firm, Lions Gate Risk Management Group. Their job is to ensure she does not violate the conditions of her release.

She pays the hefty bill for that monitoring, which includes two guards at a time and a driver.

"If I were on The Price is Right, I would say that's about US$7,000 a day, or more than US$2.5 million a year, said Nicholas Casale, a former police detective, referencing the popular American game show.

Mr Casale structured Bernie Madoff's bail agreement and acted as monitor for the disgraced money manager for about three months.

Ms Meng's long leash following her C$10 million (S$10.2 million) bail is unusual, he said - normally, the defendant's movements and communications would be restricted.

"You can't just go to dinner or go shopping," Mr Casale said.

The conditions of Ms Meng's house arrest are in stark contrast to another corporate titan - former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn - who is confined at a Tokyo detention centre.

He arrived in handcuffs, plastic slippers and a rope around his waist in court last week.

Ms Meng is also faring better than the two Canadians detained in China, who have had scant consular access.

That has not stopped China's envoy to Canada from protesting against Ms Meng's treatment. In a fiery op-ed published in an Ottawa newspaper last week, Ambassador Lu Shaye railed against "Western egotism" and "white supremacy" of those who have criticised China for detaining the Canadians, in what was widely seen as retaliation.

"Have they shown any concern or sympathy for Meng after she was illegally detained and deprived of freedom?" Mr Lu wrote in the Hill Times.

He told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that Ms Meng is innocent, adding the case is politically motivated. He also defended the detentions of Canadians, saying they weren't retaliatory.

Ms Meng, 46, sported a purple Hermes scarf and Bottega Veneta handbag when she first reported to her bail supervisor in Vancouver on Dec 12.

Renovations, meanwhile, are under way at her other C$16.3 million mansion in one of Vancouver's toniest neighbourhoods, where a truck from a high-end closet designer was parked outside recently.

Her defence indicated she would like to move there when it is ready. If she does, she will be two doors down from the US consul-general's residence, where the star-spangled banner flaps on the front lawn.

Getting glimpses of her daily life is difficult - her guards appear to have taken on the responsibility of shielding her from the public eye.

When Bloomberg News journalists parked on the street next to her home last week and identified themselves as press, one guard took photos of the licence plate as another sped over in his white SUV to block their vehicle.

As Ms Meng slipped out of her house in her Lululemon jacket, the guard began accusing the journalists of damaging his car before later acknowledging he had obstructed them.

Still, the outings and postcard views mask a darker reality for Ms Meng: This extradition process could drag on for months, and possibly years, if history is any guide. And the odds are high that she will be extradited in the end.

"The tilt of the Crown in these cases is extradite, extradite, extradite," said Robert Currie, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who specialises in international law. BLOOMBERG