Sunday, 7 April 2019

9,000 SNC-Lavalin Jobs Versus 250,000 Canadians Who Make Their Income from Canola

Canola matters!

Watching CPAC the other day I was taken aback to read the caption that 250,000 Canadians, including 43,000  farmers, make their incomes from the sale of canola.  (See https://www.canolacouncil.org/markets-stats/industry-overview/ for more.) 40% of Canada's canola is sold to China.  China is currently blocking all imports of Canadian canola on the grounds that it contains contaminants.  (Remember when George W. Bush blocked the importation of Canadian beef for two years? I actually know some Canadian beef producers who went bankrupt as a result.)

An exercise in futility

In Canada the common presumption is that the Chinese blockade is retaliation for the fact that we continue to hold Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei CFO, under house arrest pending extradition.  This Chinese retaliation is outrageous, unfair, unjust; therefore, it's time for all of us Canadians to get together and scream and howl and whine and throw tantrums at one another.  Feel better?  I don't.

The obvious, legal, just solution:  release Meng Wanzhou

The solution is obvious, legal, just and appropriate: release Meng Wanzhou.  ( See A Dozen Reason the Minister of Justice should Release Sabrina Meng Wanzhou.)  Rather than doing what is obvious and justified our politicians have painted themselves (and us) into a corner with the false and hypocritical claims that in Canada extradition is a "non-political, judicial affair" and Canada is following "the rule of law." No matter how obviously false and how many ways these claims can be disproven, they continue to be repeated.  (Please consult the Canadian Extradition Act.)

In comparison to the consequences of Canada's arrest of Meng, the SNC-Lavalin scandal is minor--unless you are a politician

Despite the serious consequences for individual Canadians of the breakdown of our diplomatic and trade relations with China, Canadian politicians and the media remain relentlessly focussed on the SNC-Lavalin soap opera.  It might seem a stretch to imagine that 250,000 Canadians are about to lose 40% of their income (or 100,000 Canadians are about to lose 100% of their income), but even if the numbers are inflated, they are the tip of the iceberg of consequences about to come our way.  By comparison, the loss of 9000 SNC-Lavalin jobs is the lesser disaster, but even this claim has been debunked.  The company has signed undertakings, agreements and leases requiring that it remain in Canada for years to come.  The only real consequence of the SNC-Lavalin scandal is that, come October, in the game of musical chairs that we call Canadian democracy, some politicians will lose their seats and others will get seats.  The ramifications for individual Canadians will be miniscule. In contrast Canadian bungling of the Meng extradition request has (according to most commentators) led to the imprisonment of two Canadians, the death sentence of a third, and, potentially, massive job and financial loses for Canadians in both the short and long term.  An additional consequence is that, in the eyes of the world, Canada will appear, not just plain stupid, but ready and eager to kowtow to American dictates no matter how spurious and counter-to-Canadian interests the requests.  (See Why Does Everyone Care So Much about the Meng Issue?)

The US Grand Jury indictment is an invitation to release Meng

The US attorneys have unsealed the Grand Jury indictment of Meng Wanzhou and made it available online.  You can see the complete document here:

https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1125021/download

Rather than showing Meng's potential guilt, the indictment seems almost like an invitation to Canadian officials to dismiss the extradition request.  If you read the document carefully, you will discover how weak, insubstantial, unprecedented and lacking in evidence the accusations are.  It is pretty dry reading, so let me parse out a few key passages and observations.

Guilt by association

The indictment conflates four defendants.  This conflation has the rhetorical effect of making Meng guilty by association. Let me unpack the obvious point here, because it really matters, even though it's surprising that it needs to be said:  being the citizen of a country accused of spying or corruption, does not make you a spy or a criminal.  Being the employee, even the CFO, of a company that is accused of a crime, does not make you a criminal.  Being the daughter of a man accused of a crime does not make you a criminal.  Despite the obviousness of this logic, the indictment attempts to make Meng Wanzhou guilty of a crime, simply by associating her with Huawei, with her father, the founder of Huawei, and with Skycom, a German company doing business in Iran.  However, since the Canadian concern is only with the accusations against Meng, it should be a simple matter to separate her, as an individual, from the co-accused--all of them companies--she is being associated with.

Meng is the only individual ever charged for doing business in Iran

To reiterate, Meng Wanzhou is the only individual to be accused in the indictment, the other defendants are companies.  In fact, Meng is the only individual ever to be accused of a crime in this type of case even though there is a long list of companies and financial institutions which have been convicted of the crime she is accused of indirectly committing--moving money in Iran.

Here is a short, selected list of the companies which have already been convicted in the USA of financial dealings with Iran:

J.P. Morgan Chase:  the company paid a fine of $5.3 million

Deutsche Bank was caught making transactions in Iran worth $10.86 billion and was fined $258 million.

Societe Generale, the French bank, undertook $15.5 billion in transactions with Iran and was fine $1.3 billion

Hewlett-Packard sold hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of products to Iran  I haven't found evidence of any punishment having been enforced against HP.

Standard Charter Bank was convicted of doing 100s of billions of dollars of business with Iran and was fined $1.5 billion.

ING, Barclays, Credit Suisse, ABN Amro Bank, and the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group  have all been convicted of contravening American sanctions and paid fines.

Canadian Extradition is political and the decision is up to David Lametti

In all of these cases not a single individual was convicted or even charged with a crime.  The  Minister of Justice, David Lametti, is tasked, according to the Extradition Act, with considering "all the relevant circumstances" and determining if the extradition request is "unfair" or would impose a penalty of less than two years imprisonment on the individual accused, or is based on politics, ethnicity or nationality.  How can the Minister look at this list of precedents and conclude that the extradition request is fair, that it is not political, not based on Meng's nationality or ethnicity, and will likely result in Meng serving more than two years in an American prison--as required by the Act?  Should reason prevail, the Minister according to the law can dismiss the extradition request "at any time,"  yet, I have seen no evidence that the possibility is even being considered or, based on the firing of Canada's ambassador to China, is even allowed to be considered.

What is the evidence that Meng committed a crime?

If Canadian law (the Extradition Act) does not convince you that Meng should be released, consider the evidence against her as spelt out in the indictment.

"Between approximately February 2008 and April 2009, MENG served on the SKYCOM Board of Directors."

She was on the board of Skycom for approximately a year.  None of the members of the board of any companies doing business with Iran which I have listed above has ever been charged with a crime.  The USA has an extradition treaty with Germany, but no other member of the Skycom board, past or present, has been accused of a crime.

The only evidence of a potential crime is a powerpoint presentation and some "talking points" from 2014 which she had deleted from her laptop (and presumably the FBI or CIA or NSA of DoJ were able to recover--while they manage to make deleting an old file seem very suspicious).  I have read through those "talking points" which are in English, but I have to assume English is not the language in which she wrote them, and I can't see any way in which they are relevant.  I invite you to consider them and (if you can) please explain to me how they are evidence of a crime.

As for the powerpoint presentation, which has been under discussion since the day Meng was arrested (and as her lawyer immediately pointed out, she did not prepare herself):

"During the meeting, which took place on or about August 22, 2013, MENG spoke in Chinese, relying in part on a PowerPoint presentation written in Chinese. Upon request by the Financial Institution 1 Executive, MENG arranged for an English-language version of the PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to Financial Institution 1 on or about September 3, 2013. 
19. In relevant part, the PowerPoint presentation included numerous misrepresentations regarding HUAWEI's ownership and control of SKYCOM and HUAWEI's compliance with applicable U.S. law, [. . . .]"
This very thin thread is, apparently, the only evidence that Meng, as an individual, committed a crime.  It is not pure pedantry to point out that "Chinese" is not a language, anymore than Indian, African, Canadian or Brazilian are languages.  Presumably she spoke in Mandarin to the executive of "Financial Institution 1" (as it is identified in the indictment) and the executive in question also spoke Mandarin.  We know from earlier published reports that "Financial Institution 1" is, in fact, HSBC (the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation).  Anyone who understands translation would also understand that a translated document should never stand as absolute evidence unless it can be carefully compared to the original text.  It seems safe to assume that the Grand Jury could not read Mandarin.

The victims of Meng's crimes

Despite the seriousness of the issues, it is hard to read the expression "Victim Financial Institutions" in the indictment without a sour chuckle.  These "victims" are exactly the financial institutions which have been making billions in profits from sidestepping US sanctions against Iran and other countries (some of which I have just listed above).

As the New York Times pointed out

"In 2017 [ . . .] HSBC provided the prosecutors with Ms. Meng’s 2013 PowerPoint presentation. HSBC said this week that it was cooperating with the government and was not under investigation itself."
The same article details that prior to the Meng investigation
"federal prosecutors had accused it [HSBC] of willfully failing to stop money laundering by customers, including in countries like Iran. To settle that investigation, HSBC had paid a $1.9 billion fine, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to have a court-supervised monitor installed inside the bank."

HSBC and the US Attorney make SNC-Lavalin and the Liberals look like lily white, innocent lambs 

(Yes, HSBC got one of those precious "deferred prosecution agreements" that SNC-Lavalin has been begging Canadian prosecutors and politicians for.)  The point here is that HSBC has huge financial incentives for putting the blame for their most recent financial transactions in Iran onto Meng Wanzhou.   The US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Richard Donoghue, the former Chief Litigator for CA Technologies, a Huawei competitor, who led the prosecution team in the Grand Jury hearing and issued the original warrant for Meng's arrest in Canada, also appears to have a vested interest in allowing HSBC to escape prosecution and making Meng responsible for HSBC doing business in Iran.

In a democratic country that prizes free speech why has there been no discussion of the merits of Meng's defence?

Since December 1, 2018, when Meng was first arrested (actually since three days before, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was informed of the pending arrest) the Canadian Minister of Justice (Jody Wilson-Raybould at the time, now David Lametti) has had the right and the obligation according to Canadian law (the Extradition Act) to "at any time" refuse the arrest and deny the extradition.  Despite the absurdity of the conflicts-of-interest situation, despite the law, despite the weakness of the case against Meng, no-one (with the exception of the now fired John McCallum) has dared to say a word about the merits of Meng's defence in the public domain.

Meng's bail conditions compared to Bernie Madoff's

Despite the urgency of the situation and the potentially dire consequences of the Meng extradition,  Canadians remain mired in media coverage of the endless he-said-she-said melodrama of SNC-Lavalin.  The comment I hear most frequently from Canadians about the Meng extradition is "Oh look, she gets to stay in her Vancouver mansion!"  Just for the record, the Meng bail conditions, a 10-million-dollar bond and house arrest, are exactly the same bail conditions which US courts imposed on Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street titan who ran a 64-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme defrauding pension funds, charitable foundations and thousands of individuals.




2 comments:

  1. I marvel at the focus, intelligence and insight that goes into creating your blog. Thank you for being so fully committed!

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