The border officer who led Meng Wanzhou’s immigration exam at Vancouver’s airport before her arrest two years ago says he wanted to adjourn the process as quickly as possible but was told to wait.
Sowmith Katragadda began his testimony Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court as part of an evidentiary hearing in Meng’s extradition case.
One of Katragadda’s superiors also denied during cross-examination that he interjected with questions about Huawei’s activity in the United States and Iran to aid American officials.
“I wanted to conduct my exam efficiently and conclude it as reasonably quickly as I can,” Katragadda testified under questioning by a Crown prosecutor.
Katragadda said although there were possible concerns about serious criminality and national security that could affect Meng’s admissibility to Canada, he understood that completing those exams could take days. He knew the RCMP were prepared to arrest Meng and didn’t want to unduly delay that process, he said.
“We felt it was not appropriate to delay the RCMP process by several days.”
Katragadda said he proceeded with a basic customs and immigration exam, which included examining her luggage and asking questions about her plans in Canada.
If Meng was ultimately extradited, the immigration exam would not be necessary and if she wasn’t, it would resume at that point, he said.
He went into the superintendents’ office and told his superiors he was ready to adjourn the exam. But they indicated they wanted to consult the Canada Border Services Agency’s national security unit first, he said.
The process was delayed because it was difficult to reach someone at the unit on the weekend. After one of Katragadda’s superiors got through to the unit, he verbally shared the questions with Katragadda, court heard.
Meng told Katragadda where she had homes around the world, that she had relinquished her Canadian permanent residency and Chinese passport and only had status in Hong Kong, and that she had no issues with law enforcement anywhere, he said.
Katragadda said he was concerned about the perception that the border agency and the RCMP were working together so he felt it was appropriate for the CBSA to conduct its process independently, before handing Meng over to the Mounties.
“I understood this was a serious case. I understood the likelihood of the whole process being reviewed and I felt we needed to take appropriate measures to ensure the processes were separate and clear,” he said.
During a meeting with the RCMP before Meng’s plane landed, he told them that if they had any questions about information obtained during the border exam, there was a legal and appropriate venue for making such a request.
“It is within my personal normal practice to pre-emptively let a partner agency know, if they did have questions, there are proper avenues to receive those answers. And the proper avenue isn’t through me,” Katragadda said.
Meng is facing extradition to the United States on charges of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Meng and Huawei deny allegations that she made false statements to HSBC, significantly understating Huawei’s relationship with Iranian affiliate Skycom Tech Co., which put the bank at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Meng’s lawyers plan to argue in February that she was subject to an abuse of process. They are gathering evidence in the evidentiary hearing to support their allegation that Canadian officials gathered evidence to support the criminal case in the U.S. under the guise of a routine border exam.
Court has heard that before the immigration exam was adjourned, one of Katragadda’s superiors, acting Supt. Sanjit Dhillon, interjected with questions about where Huawei does business and specifically whether it does business in the United States or Iran.
Dhillon testified that a Wikipedia article he read before Meng’s plane landed on Dec. 1, 2018, raised concerns about serious criminality and national security that could make her inadmissible to Canada.
He acknowledged under cross-examination that he only asked about the company’s activity in the United States and Iran, not Canada.
“I didn’t ask her specifically about her company doing espionage in Canada. No question I posited was as specific as that,” Dhillon said.
Dhillon was one of two superintendents working that day and he also said he did not recall asking Katragadda to delay adjournment of the exam.
Defence lawyer Mona Duckett posited to Dhillon that he was not questioning Meng to determine her admissibility to Canada, but to advance the interests of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“My proposition to you is that you did not question her about admissibility issues … but you questioned her about the topic of the U.S. warrant, which you knew from the meeting with the police was related to Iran and sanctions,” Duckett said.
Dhillon said the questions were relevant to Meng’s admissibility.
Duckett then suggested that Dhillon never looked at Wikipedia that morning at all but only said so after one of his own superiors asked him where his line of questioning came from.
“This is a creation after the fact,” Duckett said.
“No it is not,” he replied.
Duckett suggested he asked the questions knowing that Meng’s passcodes to her electronics had been obtained, and that the exam would soon be adjourned.
“Your only intent in this matter, officer Dhillon, was to gather evidence that might be of use to the FBI,” Duckett said.
“No,” Dhillon said.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
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