Wednesday 19 December 2018
Meng was arrested on 1 December 2018 for ‘unspecified charges’ in Vancouver . Photo: Rich Lam/AFP

Just over two weeks ago, telco-giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer was arrested in Canada. By all reports, the United States was found to have ordered the arrest of Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, on account of the Chinese national circumventing its trade bans with Iran and doing business with the middle eastern nation.

Meng was arrested on 1 December 2018 for ‘unspecified charges’ in Vancouver while she was changing flights on her way to Mexico. Her arrest, which took place amid ongoing trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, drew international attention and sent US shares plunging in the global markets. Each of her charges carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.

China responded to the arrest saying that Meng had not violated any law and went so far as to say that Canadian authorities infringed on her human rights as no proper reason had been given for the arrest, which is an interesting claim given the many questions around China’s human rights track record. And what of the Canadian authorities’ role in all of this? Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his administration had no direct involvement in Meng’s arrest and emphasised that “we are a country [with] an independent judiciary.”

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: AFP

As matters escalated, the Chinese government voiced their dissatisfaction with the way the case was handled and termed the arrest as a ‘kidnapping’ which was ‘extremely nasty’. At least it is of some comfort that Meng’s whereabouts are known, which is not the case with scores of others who have been allegedly ‘disappeared‘ by the Communist Party. China has never been a nation that takes things lightly and they have warned Canada that there will be ‘serious consequences’ if Meng was not released.

As Meng remained in detention, the 11 December 2018 saw the detention of Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, on charges of “endangering state security”. Read into it what you may, but Meng was released on bail the same day on the conditions that she wore an ankle bracelet and did not leave her home in Vancouver between 11pm to 6am. Two days later, China arrested another Canadian Michael Spavor who runs a cultural exchange which helps people to travel to North Korea.

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A security guard stands outside the home of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou after she was granted bail on December 11, 2018 in Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Rich Lam/AFP

With tensions running high and Meng’s arrest described as carrying the potential to “materially damage the relationship between the US and China”, will the world continue to see tit-for-tat moves made by the countries involved? And the larger question remains – given that Meng is a Chinese national who was arrested in Canada, how was the US able to arrest her?

US Long-Arm Jurisdiction

For the uninitiated, welcome to the concept of long-arm jurisdiction. For a long time, the United States has been criticised for its tendency to enforce its laws over entities in other countries. According to the government’s official legal reference website US Legal, through long-arm jurisdiction, the US can exert its influence on non-US organisations through (and on issues relating to) export controls, national security reviews of foreign investments, anti-money laundering and anti-corruption laws and securities regulations.

Understandably, the concept (and application of) long-arm jurisdiction is controversial. Does the interference of an external power always fall under long-arm jurisdiction? Not necessarily. In a report by the South China Morning Post, Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Centre for Strategic International Studies in Washington, said that the arrest of Meng was neither long-arm jurisdiction or motivated by the ongoing trade war between the two economic giants.

Simply put, the US has an extradition treaty with Canada. So when Meng allegedly broke US law through her relationships with Iran transited in Canada, she was an open target for an arrest.

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Protestors hold signs in favour of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou outside her bail hearing at British Columbia Superior Courts in Vancouver, British Columbia on December 11, 2018. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP

How Far Does the Arm Extend?

Considering the fact that the US has jurisdictional power with countries that has signed an extradition treaty with it, it appears that most of the world is within the reach of the global superpower. A total of 110 countries in the world have signed the extradition treaty with the United States between the years of 1872 and 2003.

Countries like Malaysia, the Philippines and Hong Kong are among those who have signed and are therefore subject to US’ jurisdictional power. However, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Timor Leste are some of the countries that are yet to sign the treaty.

When is it Used?

Extradition is carried out when it is deemed necessary to deliver a person accused or convicted of committing a crime in another jurisdiction over to their law enforcement. It is a cooperative enforcement process and how it is carried out is dependent on the terms of the treaty signed between the two jurisdictions. Besides the legal aspects of the process, extradition also involves physically transferring custody of the individual to the authority requesting jurisdiction.

As seen in the case of Meng, through the extradition process, one sovereign jurisdiction (US) makes a formal request to another sovereign jurisdiction (Canada). It is understood that if the fugitive is found within the territory of the requested state, then the requested state may arrest the fugitive. The extradition process, however, would differ based on the laws practiced in the requested state. Theoretically speaking, even when two jurisdictions have not signed a treaty, one country can still request the expulsion or lawful return of an individual found guilty of committing a crime. This can be accomplished through immigration laws of the requested jurisdiction.

What is Next for Meng?

At present, the business tycoon is awaiting her extradition trial which is set to take place in February 2019. China and US aside, Canada and its legal system have found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

Source: South China Morning Post, US Legal, Global News, CNN International, BBC

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