New book gives glimpse at how deal came together to release Meng, free ‘two Michaels’
OTTAWA — President Joe Biden’s determination to take a hands-off approach to the administration of justice in the United States impeded initial Canadian efforts to pressure the U.S. to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, a new book says.
The U.S. did eventually negotiate an agreement with Meng in September, allowing Canada to drop extradition proceedings against her.
That triggered the release of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. They had been detained in China for nearly three years in what was widely considered retaliation for Meng’s arrest at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018.
A behind-the-scenes glimpse into how that agreement came about is offered in “The Two Michaels: Innocent Canadian Captives and High Stakes Espionage in the U.S.-China Cyber War,” co-authored by Mike Blanchfield, a reporter with The Canadian Press, and Fen Hampson, professor of international affairs at Carleton University.
Six months before the simultaneous release of Meng and Kovrig and Spavor, the authors say, Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, spent several weeks in Washington trying to persuade the U.S. Justice Department, Huawei and Meng’s lawyers to come to some agreement.
But they say his efforts foundered on Biden’s vow to not interfere with the administration of justice the way his predecessor, Donald Trump, had done.
“Biden came to power determined to rebuild public trust in American institutions, and undoing Trump’s politicization of the Justice Department, which he attempted to run as his private law firm, was near the top of his list,” the book says.
“Barton’s efforts to find some sort of legal resolution to Meng’s case faltered at that red line: the U.S. Department of Justice was off limits to the White House.”
The book cites an unnamed Canadian source with direct knowledge of the talks putting it this way: “Things were made more difficult because Biden became more Catholic than the Pope about the Justice Department, trying to distinguish himself from Trump’s interference with the administration of justice.”
Nevertheless, citing a senior U.S. government official, the book says Justice officials themselves wanted to “re-examine the merits” of Meng’s case, which hinged on an allegation that she had violated U.S. sanctions against Iran.
While they considered Huawei’s conduct to be illegal, “there was a growing realization that other banks and institutions that had run afoul of the Iran sanctions weren’t being treated the same way,” the book says.
It does not go into detail but some critics have argued that it was unprecedented for the U.S. to launch criminal proceedings against Meng personally, rather than targeting Huawei through civil litigation as had been done with other companies.
“Troubled by elements of the Meng indictment, federal justice officials began to warm to the idea of a deferred prosecution agreement,” the book says.