US Prosecutors Block Huawei From Accessing Sensitive Evidence in Federal Case

June 21, 2019 Updated: June 22, 2019

U.S. prosecutorial evidence used to charge Chinese telecom giant Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou in the federal case accusing them of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran may never be shown to the company because they are deemed too sensitive.

After interviewing federal prosecutors involved in the case, Bloomberg reported on June 19 that Huawei’s U.S. lawyers would only be able to review certain court evidence under supervision due to national security concerns.

Currently, defendant Meng is in Vancouver, awaiting extradition hearings. The Chinese regime has retaliated against Canada for Meng’s arrest by detaining Canadians in China, blocking imports of Canadian canola, encouraging the boycott of Canadian goods, and more.

On June 13, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed reports that the Ottawa government could halt the extradition process in a bid to improve ties with Beijing, saying that such actions would set a dangerous precedent. Meng’s extradition hearings are set to begin next January.

Sensitive Evidence

The U.S. government has indicted Huawei and Meng for engaging in bank fraud in order to conduct business with Iran via an unofficial Hong Kong-based subsidiary, Skycom Tech.

According to court documents released on May 10, U.S. prosecutors filed a motion seeking to disqualify Huawei lawyer James M. Cole, claiming conflict of interest because he was a U.S. deputy attorney general from 2011 to 2015, and had access to classified information.

On June 19, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly scheduled a Sept. 4 hearing to determine Cole’s qualification. That same day, Bloomberg reported that the case contained sensitive evidence.

“Prosecutors convinced a federal judge that releasing too much would pose a risk to national security and other governmental concerns,” according to the report. “Information could identify potential witnesses or contains ‘national security’ material.”

Bloomberg quoted prosecutor Alexander Solomon as saying that Huawei’s American lawyers have received at least 700,000 pages of evidence from the court as part of typical litigation procedures, which they are not allowed to share with Meng.

The judge also restricted Huawei’s legal team members who are not American lawyers from accessing other evidence, labeled “sensitive” by the U.S. government. Bloomberg did not disclose which U.S. authority made the classification. The non-U.S. lawyers can only access the evidence “by certain witnesses in the presence of American lawyers,” according to the report.

The sensitive evidence is stored on a computer that is disconnected from the internet, and must remain in the United States. If members of Huawei’s legal team outside of the United States wish to review the documents, he or she can only review them in the presence of the company’s U.S. defense lawyers, according to Bloomberg.

If Huawei’s U.S. lawyers wish to share sensitive evidence with anybody outside of the United States, they have to notify the U.S. government in advance.

“What underlies all of this is the allegation that there are deep and close connections between Huawei and the Chinese government,” Bloomberg quoted U.S. former national security lawyer Ryan Fayhee as saying. “That’s why this presents differently than a traditional fraud case.”

Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou is escorted by security as she leaves her home on May 8, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Awkward Dialogue

On June 17, Huawei organized a tech-themed dialogue held in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province that was live-broadcasted by China’s state-run media CGTN.

Ren Zhengfei, founder and CEO of Huawei and Catherine Chen, senior vice president of Huawei, were among a panel that included U.S. tech, economic, and political thinkers.

After a 75-minute talk about the global economy, a Q&A session was held with the audience, which included international media.

The first questions made comments that favored Huawei.

When it was American reporters’ turn to ask questions, the moderator, a CGTN reporter, changed the rule and said the panel would collect all the questions and then answer them later.

A reporter from the Washington Post asked Ren about Huawei’s sales situation, and how many U.S. companies supply Huawei now. U.S. authorities have placed the company on a blacklist that effectively bans it from doing business with U.S. firms.

Ren skirt around the question by emphasizing that the company’s Chinese market is doing well.

Then a CNN reporter asked: “I am curious about your views on China’s vast search apparatus, which has blocked Google’s search and map functions in your country, and other U.S. and foreign tech. Can the future be as bright as you envision when you have a whole generation that has been sort of walled off for that kind of information?”

The speakers again skirted around the topic, with the moderator seemingly purposefully not raising the question with the panelists. But Nicholas Negroponte, American author and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, remembered the question and said he was disappointed about the Chinese government’s censorship because many apps don’t work in China. When he tried to say more, the moderator noticed him and he then moved onto another topic – open research.

Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei (C) gestures as he attends a panel discussion on technology, markets and enterprise in Shenzhen on June 17, 2019. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Huawei’s Advertisements

Meanwhile, days before the panel, media reported that Huawei had run Facebook advertisements attempting to dispel international criticisms about its products’ security risks, mostly directed at European users.

The Daily Telegraph quoted one of the blocked ads: “We prefer #facts over fiction on #cybersecurity. Fact: #Huawei has a strong, proven track record in investing in top cybersecurity and in being compliant with legal and data requirements.”

Facebook blocked the ads, with the rationale that they were political in nature.

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