VANCOUVER: After being stuck for nearly three years, largely confined to her multi-million dollar Canadian home in a desirable neighborhood of Vancouver, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou appears ready to return home to China.
Like many top Chinese executives, Meng is a mysterious figure even in his home country, but the 49-year-old chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies had been widely tipped to one day take the helm of the tech giant founded by his father.
Meng was arrested in December 2018 at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. warrant accusing her of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC Holdings about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
On Friday, Meng reached a deal with U.S. prosecutors to resolve the bank fraud case against him.
Under the deal, Meng will be released on personal bail and the United States plans to drop their extradition request to Canada, which could pave the way for her to return to China.
Usually expressionless in public appearances since her arrest, Meng smiled widely as she left her home on Friday to attend a hearing held virtually between Vancouver and Brooklyn, New York, on her deal with the United States.
A final decision on when Meng will be free to leave Canada is expected to be known after separate Canadian court proceedings in Vancouver later on Friday.
Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians, sentencing one this month to 11 years in prison for espionage, a move the Canadians attacked in retaliation.
Beijing has denied any connection between the arrests and Meng’s case.
The detention of Meng, who derives his last name from his mother and also used the English first names “Cathy” and “Sabrina”, has once again highlighted Huawei at a time when the world is increasingly concerned. more electronic security.
In dozens of court appearances over nearly three years of hearings, Meng has remained calm as her lawyers have described her as an innocent bystander caught in a trade war between the United States and China. Canadian lawyers argued that she was responsible for misleading HSBC and that any nuance of the case should be argued in a US court.
For nearly three years, Meng has been under house arrest in Vancouver. Under her bail conditions, she was allowed to roam the city during the day and return to her home at night in Shaughnessy, an upscale neighborhood in the Pacific coastal city. She is monitored 24/7 by private security, which she pays as part of her plea deal.
Her husband, Liu Xiaozong, and the son and daughter they have together were able to visit her during the pandemic. Meng spent the time with oil painting, reading and working, according to an open letter to Huawei employees she wrote on the first anniversary of her arrest.
According to Huawei’s website, Meng joined the company in 1993, graduated with a master’s degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 1998, and rose through the ranks over the years, mostly holding financial positions.
She has held the positions of director of the international accounting department, financial director of Huawei Hong Kong and chair of the accounting management department, according to the website.
During her first media appearance to the Chinese press in 2013, Meng said she first joined the company as a secretary “whose job it was just to take calls.”
In 2011, she was appointed to the board for the first time. Company insiders describe her as capable and hardworking.
While his brother, Meng Ping, as well as his father’s younger brother and current wife all work at Huawei and related companies, none have held such leadership positions.
Meng is widely viewed by Huawei insiders as the likely successor to Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. Ren, 74, founded the Chinese telecommunications company in 1988 and, like his eldest daughter Meng, has largely kept a low profile.
Much of Huawei’s scrutiny stems from Ren’s background with the China People’s Liberation Army (PLA), where he worked as a civil engineer for nearly a decade until he left in 1983. after helping to build his communication network.
Officials from some governments, especially the United States, have expressed concern about his company’s proximity to the Chinese military and government.
Huawei has repeatedly insisted that Beijing has no influence on this.
At the time of Meng’s arrest, Huawei’s revenue was split evenly between domestic and international revenue, half of which came from supplying equipment to telecom operators around the world.
But since then, Western countries have distanced themselves from the Chinese tech giant. In 2019, Huawei was placed on an export blacklist by then-US President Donald Trump and banned from accessing critical US-sourced technologies, which affected its ability to design its own chips. and its components from external suppliers.
The ban put Huawei’s handset business under immense pressure, as the company sold its low-budget smartphone unit to a consortium of agents and resellers in November 2020 to keep it alive.
The company’s consumer sales now represent more than half of its business, with 66% of revenue coming from China, according to its 2020 annual report.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Denny Thomas and Howard Goller)