VANCOUVER (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was “very persistent” in seeking information from border agents after Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou’s arrest two years ago, a Canadian border official testified in court on Tuesday.
Nicole Goodman, a chief at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in charge of agents investigating Meng the day she was detained, told the court that an Ottawa-based legal attache for the FBI reached out repeatedly asking for Meng’s travel history in Canada and other private information after she was taken into custody by the Canadian federal police on a U.S. warrant for bank fraud.
Goodman told the court she did not have the authority to share the requested information and was concerned that someone else within the CBSA who was not familiar with the case might share the information without authorization.
“I would never be releasing information to the FBI at my level,” she said.
Meng’s lawyers have argued that U.S. and Canadian authorities illegally coordinated during the investigation and arrest. In particular they claim that Canadian border agents intentionally gave identifying details about Meng’s electronic devices – including passcodes – to Canadian police.
They further allege that Canadian police shared those details with the FBI.
Prosecutors are trying to establish that Meng’s arrest by the Canadian federal police and the investigation by border officials were above board.
Meng, 48, is facing charges of bank fraud in the United States for allegedly misleading HSBC Holdings PLC about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran, causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions.
She has said she is innocent and is fighting the extradition from under house arrest in Vancouver.
Goodman testified that she discovered the CBSA may have accidentally shared passcodes with police during a debrief meeting after Meng’s arrest. CBSA has previously testified that the passcodes to Meng’s electronic devices were shared with the Canadian federal police in error.
Goodman said when the topic of information sharing came up, agent Scott Kirkland went pale and looked distressed.
“I remember it vividly,” she said. “I wanted to know, what’s wrong here, Scott?”
Goodman learned that Kirkland had written passcodes on a piece of paper, and he did not know whether the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took it or not at that time, she testified.
She believed the passcode sharing was “100 percent accidental.”
Earlier on Tuesday RCMP Sergeant Ross Lundie, who was serving as the force’s airport liaison when Meng was arrested, told the court that he recalled overhearing one of his RCMP colleagues discussing passcodes, potentially to Meng’s devices, with a Canadian border agent.
But he said he did not realize the potential significance of the conversation on the day of Meng’s arrest.
“At that time I had no idea why there would be passwords to phones … obtained by anybody,” he said. “I should have asked for clarity.”
The witness testimony this week has generated more attention after news last week that U.S. prosecutors are discussing a deal with lawyers for Meng to resolve criminal charges against her, signaling a potential end to a case that has strained ties between the United States, China and Canada.
Meng’s arrest caused a chill in diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing. Shortly after Meng was detained, China arrested two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who now face spying charges.
On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the release of the two Canadians was his “top priority,” while declining to comment on the talks to release Meng.
Meng’s case is scheduled to wrap up in April 2021.
(Reporting by Sarah Berman in Vancouver; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Stephen Coates)