Huawei heir apparent prepares for life after three years of Canada court battle

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - After being stuck for nearly three years, largely confined to her multi-million-dollar Canadian house in a sought-after neighborhood in Vancouver, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou looks set to return home to China.

Like many top Chinese executives, Meng is a mysterious figure even in her home country, but the 49-year-old CFO of Huawei Technologies had been widely tipped to one day take the helm of the tech giant her father founded.

Meng was detained in December 2018 at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. warrant charging her with bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC Holdings about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.

On Friday, Meng reached an agreement with U.S. prosecutors to resolve the bank fraud case against her.

Under the deal, Meng will be released on personal recognizance bond, and the United States plans to drop its extradition request to Canada, which could pave the way for her to fly back to China.

Usually expressionless in public appearances since her arrest, Meng smiled broadly when she left her house on Friday to attend a court hearing conducted virtually between Vancouver and Brooklyn, New York, on her agreement with the United States.

A final decision about when Meng will be free to leave Canada was expected to be known after a separate Canadian court proceeding 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, in a move Canadians assailed as retaliation.

Beijing has denied any connection between the arrests and Meng's case.

The detention of Meng, who takes her family name from her mother and has also used the English first names "Cathy" and "Sabrina," once again threw the spotlight on Huawei at a time of heightened global concerns over electronic security.

In dozens of court appearances over close to three years of hearings, Meng remained composed while her lawyers portrayed her as an innocent bystander caught up in a trade war between the United States and China. Canadian lawyers argued she was responsible for misleading HSBC and that any nuances of the case should be argued in a U.S. court.

For close to three years, Meng has been under loose house arrest in Vancouver. Under her bail terms, she has been permitted to roam the city during the day and return at night to her house in Shaughnessy, an upscale neighborhood in the Pacific coastal city. She is monitored 24/7 by private security, which she pays for as part of her plea deal.

Her husband, Liu Xiaozong, and the son and daughter they have together have been able to visit her during the pandemic. Meng has passed the time with oil painting, reading and work, 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, obtained a master's degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 1998, and rose through the ranks over the years, mostly holding financial roles.

She has held the positions of director of the international accounting department, CFO of Huawei Hong Kong, and president of the accounting management department, according to the website.

In her first media appearance before the Chinese press in 2013, Meng said she had first joined the company as a secretary "whose job was just to take calls."

In 2011 she was first named as a board member. Company insiders describe her as capable and hardworking.

While her brother, Meng Ping, as well as her father's younger brother and his current wife all work at Huawei and related companies, none has held such senior management roles.

Meng is widely seen by Huawei insiders as the likely successor to Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. Ren, 74, founded the Chinese telecommunications company in 1988 and, like his elder daughter Meng, has largely kept a low profile.

Much of Huawei's scrutiny stems from Ren's background with China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), where he worked as a civilian engineer for nearly a decade until his departure in 1983, after helping to build its communications network.

Officials in some governments, particularly the United States, have voiced concern that his company is close to the Chinese military and government.

Huawei has repeatedly insisted Beijing has no influence over it.

At the time of Meng's arrest, Huawei's revenue was split equally between domestic and international revenue, half of which came from supplying equipment to telecoms carriers around the world.

But since then Western countries have distanced themselves from the Chinese tech giant. In 2019 Huawei was put on an export blacklist by then-U.S. President Donald Trump and barred from accessing critical technology of U.S. origin, affecting its ability to design its own chips and source components from outside vendors.

The ban put Huawei's handset business under immense pressure, with the company selling off its budget smartphone unit to a consortium of agents and dealers in November 2020 to keep it alive.

The company's consumer sales now make up over 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)

09/24/2021 19:06

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