The Canada Border Services Agency officer who took the lead in questioning Meng Wanzhou was grilled Thursday about his authority to secure the Huawei executive’s cellphones after her arrival at the Vancouver airport.
CBSA officer Sowmith Katragadda testified that at a meeting before Meng’s arrival that the RCMP had requested the phones be secured to ensure that information on the devices was not erased. He said that after Huawei’s chief financial officer got off the plane on Dec. 1, 2018, and before he took her in for an immigration admissibility exam, he asked her to turn over the phones and she complied with his request.
A decision was made to have Meng undergo the exam before turning her over to the Mounties so she could then be arrested under a warrant seeking her extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges.
Under cross-examination by Meng lawyer Mona Duckett, Katragadda said that one of the purposes of separating the phones from her could be for the purposes of their exam.
“You took the cellphones away from Ms. Meng for the purpose of your examination,” said Duckett.
“If we wanted to examine Ms. Meng’s devices, we had the authority to do so,” said Katragadda.
“Is that what was in your mind at the time you required her on the jetway to give you her cellphones?” Duckett asked.
“RCMP’s request to secure those devices … was also on my mind,” said Katragadda.
“You knew that the RCMP wanted the devices because the FBI wanted them,” said Duckett.
“I knew of the RCMP’s interest and the FBI’s interest,” said Katragadda. “However, I did not know if the RCMP only wanted them for the sole purpose of the FBI.”
Meng’s lawyers are claiming that the seizure of Meng’s phones amounted to a violation of her rights and that there was an abuse-of-process that involved Canadian and U.S. authorities conspiring to delay her arrest so as to conduct a covert criminal investigation.
CBSA officials who have testified at the evidentiary hearing stage of the extradition process have denied they did anything untoward and have defended their actions.
Katragadda told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that at the point the cellphones were taken from Meng he had not formed an opinion regarding any decision to examine the devices under customs or immigration authority.
“The possibility was clear to me however as I had not conducted, or even begun my examination, it would not have been appropriate for me to reach the decision to examine the devices.”
“You hadn’t even developed grounds under (the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act) to demand the production of those phones,” said Duckett.
“I did not really consider the IRPA grounds at that point,” said Katragadda.
The defence lawyer asked under what authority he had demanded the devices as he stood on the jetway with Meng.
“I asked Ms. Meng if she had any devices,” said Katragadda. “She could have said no to that statement. She could have stated that she did not want to give me her devices. I did not tell her that she was required by law.”
Earlier, Katragadda testified that after he questioned Meng and adjourned her admissibility exam, he issued an immigration warrant requiring her to show up later for the resumption of the exam. He said Meng definitely had the resources to leave Canada and not report for an exam if she chose to do so.
“Ms. Meng is a senior executive for one of the biggest companies in the world. Canada is a big, big country with a lot of small airports. She could have very easily gone to one of these airports and departed Canada if she chose to do so.”
Katragadda is expected to continue his testimony Friday.