A border officer who examined Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport before her arrest says the Huawei executive was “calm and open” until he turned to questions about security concerns surrounding the company’s products.
Sanjit Dhillon was an acting superintendent with Canada Border Services Agency in December 2018 when Meng was detained for three hours then arrested by the RCMP.
Meng is facing extradition to the United States on fraud charges. Meng and Huawei deny the allegations she lied to HSBC, putting the bank at risk of violating American sanctions against Iran.
“At the beginning she was calm and open. When I started asking questions specifically about the security concerns regarding her company she got a little closed off,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon testified at an evidentiary hearing Monday in B.C. Supreme Court where Meng’s lawyers are trying to gather evidence to support their argument that she was subject to an abuse of process. Her legal team alleges RCMP and border officials co-ordinated their actions to obtain evidence against her before her arrest.
Dhillon was not the border officer leading the examination but as a superior, he said he sometimes steps in when he believes he can help.
Court documents have previously shown that he questioned Meng about Huawei’s activity in Iran.
Before Meng’s plane landed, Dhillon said she was flagged in an internal database for an outstanding warrant in her name.
Anticipating her arrival, Dhillon testified he found a Wikipedia page about Huawei that said the company doesn’t operate in the United States because of security concerns and that Huawei was suspected of violating U.S. economic sanctions with Iran.
Dhillon said he stepped in when Meng asked why she was being held for so long.
“I interjected and asked specific questions to Ms. Meng about her company and also what I found during the open-source query,” Dhillon testified. “I wanted to further the examination.”
The purpose of the customs and immigration exam was to determine Meng’s admissibility to Canada, which could be affected by possible criminality or national security concerns, he said.
Dhillon asked Meng what she did. She said she was the chief financial officer of a global telecommunications company, he told the court.
He asked where the company did business. When she listed countries without including the United States he asked her why.
“She said we don’t sell our products in the United States,” Dhillon said.
He asked if there was a reason why and Meng responded she didn’t know. Dhillon said he then reframed the question.
“Since she’s the chief financial officer of this telecommunications company, I would assume that she would know why her company isn’t able to sell its products in one of the most lucrative markets in the world,” Dhillon said.
“She was quiet. She didn’t respond right away. And eventually she said there was a security concern with the product the U.S. government had.”
He testified Meng didn’t say what those concerns were.
Dhillon said his questions were based on his own online search and he was not directed by anyone to ask her questions.
Dhillon is the fourth witness to testify in the evidence hearings. Meng’s legal team will argue next year that Canadian officials gathered evidence under the pretence of a routine immigration exam and kept intentionally poor notes.
Supt. Bryce McRae, a colleague of Dhillon’s, testified Monday that at no point was he instructed to avoid taking notes.
McRae also denied an allegation by Meng’s defence lawyer Mona Duckett that he “fabricated” part of his testimony regarding instructions he received from the border agency’s national security unit.
McRae said he phoned the unit for guidance and was provided a series of questions to ask Meng, including where her residences are around the world.
He shared the questions orally with at least one of the border officers in the examination room but did not write them down, he said.
“I suggest that when you spoke to (her) she informed you you should shut down this exam,” said Duckett.
“I don’t recall ever receiving that information,” McRae responded.
Duckett pointed to McRae’s notes, which recorded the calls to the unit as happening after an officer questioned Meng about her homes.
“I suggest … your evidence about the advice you received is an entire fabrication,” said Duckett.
McRae denied the suggestion.
He told the court that officers under his supervision would have had their own questions for Meng and would not have solely relied on guidance from the national security unit.
Since Meng’s arrest, relations between Canada and China have eroded, and China’s arrest of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are widely considered to be retaliation for her detention.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press