Huawei sues US govt over claims Trump administration ignored company's Freedom of Information requests

Suit pushes Uncle Sam to release documents comms giant alleges were suppressed due to 'policy objectives'

Embattled Chinese telecoms outfit Huawei has filed suit against the US government over allegations it is "stonewalling" legitimate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The complaint [PDF], which was filed in DC federal court on Friday, pertains to documents describing the trial of Huawei's CFO, Meng Wanzhou, who faces an extradition battle in Canada over allegations of fraud and breaching sanctions against Iran.

Also sought by Huawei – via its FOI requests – was information regarding the state of trade relations between the US and China, and competition over the development of 5G technology.

Huawei requested access to the documents over a year ago, and said in the complaint that its requests have been largely ignored, save for one reply which consisted of 11 redacted pages. The business said in the filing it believes the documents could provide evidence that the charges against Wanzhou are politically motivated.

It added that the US government was "seeking to use the criminal charges against plaintiffs and Ms Meng to advance policy objectives unrelated to the evenhanded administration of criminal justice.

"These requests are primarily aimed at identifying communications that could indicate improper bases for the prosecution of Plaintiffs and Ms Meng, such as to interfere with Plaintiffs' dominance in the 5G marketplace or strengthen the United States' position in trade negotiations with China."

The US FOIA gives government agencies 20 business days to respond to a request, either by providing the documents requested, or explicitly refusing. Should an agency decline an FOIA request, it must offer a justification.

The suit names 16 government bodies as defendants, including the US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the US Department of Commerce. Huawei is seeking injunctive relief, which would compel these government bodies to release the requested documents.

Wanzhou – also known as Cathy Meng – is the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhenfei. On 1 December 2018, she was arrested during a stopover at Vancouver Airport as she travelled to Argentina via Mexico City. The US government claims Wanzhou misled banking giant HSBC over the activities of a company subsidiary, which is accused of violating economic sanctions against Iran in order to obtain financing.

The Hong Kong-based subsidiary, called Skycom, is alleged to have sold €20m worth of kit to Iran between 2009 and 2014, including €1.3m worth of HP computer equipment to the Islamic Republic's telecoms sector.

Huawei argued the charges are politically motivated, and sought to seek a dismissal based on the principle of "double criminality," claiming the alleged breach of Iran-directed sanctions was not illegal at the time. A Canadian judge rejected that argument, allowing extradition proceedings to continue. Meng is under house arrest after posting bail of $10m.

The complaint asked the court to force the government to process and produce the remaining document requests "immediately".

The Register has contacted Huawei for comment. ®

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