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Meng's release big victory for China, ex-Alstom exec says

By RENA LI in Toronto | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-09-30 07:00
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Meng Wanzhou waves at a cheering crowd as she steps out of a charter plane at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province, Sept 25, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

The release of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou is a great victory for China, said a French former business leader, as it was "really the first time" that a country stood up to the "long-arm jurisdiction of the United States" in such a way.

Frederic Pierucci, a former executive of energy and transport group Alstom, had his own experience of being accused by the US. He was arrested by US authorities at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport during a routine business trip in 2013.

Pierucci was detained on foreign bribery charges for five years, saying that he was held as an "economic hostage". Alstom eventually paid a massive fine and was forced to sell its core business to US rival General Electric.

The high-profile arrest of Meng has stirred a debate over punitive measures taken by the US against foreign businesses and individuals.

"In fact, in all Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases, I have never seen such a thing," Pierucci said in an interview with the China Global Television Network, referring to Meng's case.

"It shows that (the) negotiation has been very, very tough, and that the Department of Justice has really bent a lot to accommodate this kind of an agreement," he said.

Through the unremitting efforts of the Chinese government, Meng finally returned to her home country safely after almost three years under house arrest in Vancouver. Meng, 49, arrived at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport on Saturday night, where she expressed gratitude to the Chinese government for securing her safe return.

Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities at the request of the US at Vancouver International Airport on Dec 1, 2018.

She was accused of misrepresenting the Chinese telecom company's relationship with Skycom in a PowerPoint presentation to HSBC in 2013 and putting the bank at risk of violating US sanctions against Iran. Meng and Huawei always denied the accusations.

Pierucci, who gave a first-hand account of Washington's cracking down on Alstom in the name of fighting corruption in his book The American Trap, said he was not as lucky as Meng.

"I didn't have the chance to have my company support me like she had. I realized that I was really alone, and that if I wanted to avoid spending 15 years in prisons in the US, I had to make the choices that I made. So this is a huge difference," Pierucci said.

Pierucci's ordeal is a cautionary tale for globe-trotting executives. He set up a consultancy to help companies stay on the right side of anti-bribery prosecutors after he returned to Paris. In 2016, France belatedly passed tough anti-corruption legislation to protect French companies.

Pierucci said the US Justice Department reaching an agreement to release Meng is hopefully going to be a "turning point" in US-China relations.

"At the end of the day, no European country will say this, but everybody deep down should feel grateful for what is happening here, because it's really one of the first times that a country is really standing up to the United States to stop this craziness of long-arm jurisdiction. So in fact, this will benefit a lot of other countries, and provide them courage to stand up and fight back."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Meng's release shows China's strength, and Canada should "draw lessons".

"Since Meng was groundlessly detained in December 2018, our Party and the Chinese government have attached high importance" to the issue, Hua said on Monday, adding that "President Xi Jinping gave personal attention to this".

"The Foreign Ministry, together with Chinese embassies in the US and Canada and the Chinese consulate general in Vancouver, has worked at various levels and on multiple occasions, provided consular protection and assistance to Ms Meng Wanzhou, and lodged solemn representations with the US and Canada, asking them to drop the erroneous charges against Meng and ensure her safe return to China as early as possible."

Jiang Wenran, an advisory board member of the Toronto-based Institute for Peace & Diplomacy, told China Daily that Meng's release indicated that the Biden administration has checked off an item on Beijing's list of preconditions for improving bilateral ties and has potentially paved the way for more high-level dialogue.

"As I wrote immediately after Meng's arrest, it was shocking and unprecedented for the US to deploy criminal procedures targeting a senior Chinese corporate executive personally instead of going after the company through civil litigation, as it previously practiced under the Department of Commerce," Jiang said.

"Former president Donald Trump openly politicized the case by declaring Meng a trade bargaining chip with China," said Jiang, a retired political science professor and founding director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

Jiang also told Canadian media that the outcome of Meng's case returns the US to its traditional behavior of going after the corporate entity for any violation of relevant US laws rather than targeting individuals.

It is "extremely unusual" for a top executive instead of a corporation to be targeted in such a case, Time reported.

Deutsche Bank was fined $258 million for violating sanctions related to Iran and Syria in 2015, but no executives were detained. Nor were any executives prosecuted when Airbus agreed to pay a record $4 billion in penalties in a massive bribery case last year, according to Time.

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