Meng Wanzhou lawyer accuses RCMP officer of ‘cover up’ in testimony

A lawyer for Meng Wanzhou Thursday accused the RCMP officer who oversaw the Huawei executive’s arrest of covering up for colleagues who allegedly sent private information from Meng’s phones and laptop to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Scott Fenton grilled Sgt. Janice Vander Graaf about an affidavit she signed last year saying she had no “independent recollection of the contents” of emails she reviewed after a subordinate told her a staff sergeant had “provided” serial numbers for Meng’s devices to the FBI.

In testimony this week, Vander Graaf claimed she now not only remembers the emails — but recalls that they said nothing about Staff Sgt. Ben Chang sending the information as the other officer, Const. Gurvinder Dhaliwal, had claimed.

“I’m going to suggest that the real reason for the striking difference between your affidavit a year ago when you have no memory and your evidence in this court where you purport to have a memory is that you are trying to cover up for Const. Dhaliwal and Staff Sgt. Chang in relation to this issue,” Fenton said.

“You tailored your evidence to suit what you think protects the RCMP.”

Vander Graaf denied both accusations: “That is absolutely not true.”

Questioned without a lawyer

Vander Graaf heads the B.C. RCMP’s foreign and domestic liaison unit, which received the request to arrest Meng on Dec. 1, 2018 for extradition to the United States, where she faces fraud and conspiracy charges.

Meng is the chief financial officer of Huawei and the daughter of the company’s billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei. She is accused of lying to an HSBC executive about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary that was accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Sgt. Janice Vander Graaf was overseeing the RCMP unit responsible for arresting Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, 2018. She is testifying in B.C. Supreme Court about the arrest and the alleged sharing of information with the FBI. (Felicity Don)

Prosecutors claim that by relying on Meng’s alleged lies to continue financing the telecommunications giant, HSBC placed itself at risk of loss and prosecution.

Officers from the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency have spent three weeks testifying about the events surrounding Meng’s arrest at Vancouver’s airport.

The testimony will be used as evidence at a hearing next spring at which the defence is hoping to convince Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that the extradition proceedings should be stayed because of alleged violations of Meng’s rights.

Meng’s lawyers claim the FBI coordinated with the RCMP and the CBSA to have customs officers use their extraordinary powers to question Meng without a lawyer for three hours before she was arrested and informed of her rights and the charges against her.

The CBSA also took Meng’s phones and obtained the passcodes, which an officer claimed he later passed to the RCMP by mistake when the police seized Meng’s goods.

‘It wasn’t my responsibility to follow up’

Most of Vander Graaf’s testimony Thursday centred on the issue of Chang allegedly sending serial numbers for Meng’s devices to the FBI. 

In an affidavit, Chang denied providing the information to U.S. law enforcement. He has since retained a lawyer and is refusing to testify.

The notes Sgt. Janice Vander Graaf took more than a week after Meng Wanzhou’s arrest indicate that Const. Gurvinder Dhaliwal told her that Staff Sgt. Ben Chang provided serial numbers for Meng’s devices to the FBI. (B.C. Supreme Court)

On Wednesday, Vander Graaf recalled Dhaliwal telling her, more than a week after Meng’s arrest, that Chang had sent the serial numbers. 

She said Dhaliwal then forwarded his emails, which she claimed “clarified” the issue because they indicated Chang was in charge of helping the FBI go through proper channels to get the information: “It didn’t say that Ben Chang had provided serial numbers.”

But Fenton pointed out that the email also didn’t say that he had not done what Dhaliwal claimed.

“Your looking at these emails does not resolve for one minute whether or not after the information was collected, Chang actually sent it,” Fenton said.

“No,” Vander Graaf answered. “But to me, it told me that it wasn’t my responsibility to follow up with that any further.”

‘I have a recollection now’

It’s unclear what the judge will make of the conflicting accounts or the huge amount of testimony she has heard so far on every detail of Meng’s arrest. Earlier this week, Holmes asked the defence and Crown to assist her in analyzing what they believe are the main takeaways.

Fenton pressed Vander Graaf on the recovery a year later of her memories about the emails and the information surrounding the issue of the serial numbers.

The CBSA seized Meng’s phones when she arrived in Vancouver and later passed them on to the RCMP. Her lawyers claim the RCMP shared technical information about the devices with the FBI. (B.C. Supreme Court)

“My notes refreshed my memory and when I went through my notes in preparation, I recalled this,” Vander Graaf said.

“So your affidavit filed a year ago was not true. You did have a memory of the matters in issue,” Fenton said.

“My affidavit was true at the time,” Vander Graaf said. “I have a recollection now.”

Vander Graaf was followed on the stand by Sgt. Ross Lundie, who oversees the RCMP’s airport detachment.

Lundie said it was his suggestion that the CBSA examine Meng for immigration purposes before the RCMP would arrest her.

The original plan had been for police to board Meng’s plane directly on arrival from Hong Kong, but Lundie said he knew the CBSA might have an interest in dealing with her first because she was a foreign national and they are the “gatekeepers” to Canada.

Lundie insisted that the RCMP was not directing the CBSA as the defence has charged. He claimed that he also insisted that any requests for information to be shared between the two agencies should go through proper protocol.

Defence lawyer Richard Peck is expected to begin cross-examining Lundie on Friday.

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