OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian government cleared the way on Friday for extradition proceedings against the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, who faces charges in the United States.
Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver last December and is currently under house arrest. She will appear in a Vancouver court at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1800 GMT) on March 6, when a date will be set for her extradition hearing.
“Today, department of Justice Canada officials issued an authority to proceed, formally commencing an extradition process in the case of Ms. Meng Wanzhou,” the government said in a statement.
In late January the U.S. Justice Department charged Meng and Huawei of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.
China, whose relations with Canada have deteriorated badly over the affair, denounced the decision and repeated previous demands for Meng’s release.
Legal experts had predicted Ottawa would give the go-ahead for extradition proceedings, given the close judicial relationship between Canada and the United States.
It could be years though before Meng is ever sent to the United States, since Canada’s slow-moving justice system allows many decisions to be appealed.
Meng’s lawyers said they were disappointed and described the U.S. charges as politically motivated.
“Our client maintains that she is innocent of any wrongdoing and that the U.S. prosecution and extradition constitutes an abuse of the processes of law,” they said in a statement.
After Meng’s detention, China arrested two Canadians on national security grounds, and a Chinese court later sentenced to death a Canadian man who previously had only been jailed for drug smuggling.
Ottawa has rejected Chinese calls to release Meng, saying it cannot interfere with the judiciary.
“The Chinese side is utterly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes the issuance of (the) authority to proceed,” the embassy in Ottawa said in a statement.
“This is … a political persecution against a Chinese high-tech enterprise.”
The Chinese foreign ministry had earlier questioned the state of judicial independence in Canada, noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government faces accusations it had tried to intervene to stop a corruption trial.
Canadian Justice Minister David Lametti declined to comment.
Huawei was not immediately available for comment.
U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters in December he would intervene if it served national security interests or helped close a trade deal with China, prompting Ottawa to stress the extradition process should not be politicized. Last week Trump played down the idea of dropping the charges.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Tom Brown