Two weeks ago, the world and many in China had no idea who Huawei heir Meng Wanzhou was.
She has, in her career, given only one media interview in 2013 and spoken at a handful of international forums, including the World Academic Summit at the National University of Singapore in September.
But since her arrest in Vancouver for allegedly flouting US sanctions against Iran, Ms Meng’s once low-profile, even secretive, life has become the stuff of tabloid fodder.
China – from government to the media to netizens – rallied around her, even as they lapped up details of her personal life that were once so fiercely guarded, but now exposed in a foreign public court.
Much of the life of 46-year-old Ms Meng, known previously as Cathy but now as Sabrina, is still shrouded in secrecy. But a few details are now known, such as the identity of her once faceless husband.
Ms Meng married Mr Liu Xiaozong, also known as Carlos Liu, in 2007, according to a Hong Kong marriage certificate produced in court during her bail hearing.
According to his biography on the website of an international association of educational institutions, Mr Liu, now 42, joined Huawei as a computer engineer in 1996 and held several positions, including investment director. In 2009, he enrolled in Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the US and received his MBA.
He founded investment firm Clear Fortune Management Company in 2012, where he was managing director. He started DePu Education Investment Company two years later and became its chairman. The firm runs a high-end foreign language school in Chongqing.
The couple have a 10-year-old daughter and they live in Shenzhen, where Huawei is based. Ms Meng is also said to have three sons from previous marriages, the eldest a 20-year-old computer engineer.
Ms Meng gave up her Canadian permanent residency in 2009, but she and Mr Liu maintain two homes in Vancouver, one of which is now her “prison”, as she has to abide by an 11pm to 6am curfew, wear an electronic anklet and be monitored by a security team paid for by her as bail conditions. Her two passports – a Chinese and a Hong Kong one – have also been impounded.
The six-bedroom house, valued at C$5.6 million (S$5.7 million) and in the upper-class neighbourhood of Dunbar, is also home to her in-laws for four to six months of the year. Ms Meng said in court documents she tries to spend at least two to three weeks there every summer.
While the media camped outside the house last week after her release from detention, Ms Meng shielded herself with drawn curtains, but sent out four pizza boxes to the waiting press corps.
The couple have a swankier C$16 million home in one of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods in Shaughnessy, as well as a duplex in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong.
The US authorities have until Jan 29 to file a formal extradition request, failing which Ms Meng will have to be released.
The chief financial officer is the daughter of telecom equipment conglomerate Huawei’s founder, Mr Ren Zhengfei. She is facing fraud charges for allegedly misleading banks over Huawei’s connections with a subsidiary, SkyCom, which had sold equipment to Iran in breach of US sanctions.
Supporters have turned up at her three bail hearings in Vancouver, packing the courtroom, while outside, some carried placards and the Chinese flag, calling for her release.
Of the C$10 million bail set, Mr Liu put up C$7 million in cash and friends, including a part-time yoga instructor, a former Huawei employee and Ms Meng’s real estate agent, raised the rest. Her arrest sparked outrage in China, prompting the Chinese government to summon both the American and Canadian ambassadors to lodge protests.
Last week’s detention of two Canadians – analyst Michael Kovrig and a businessman Michael Spavor – by the Chinese authorities have been widely seen as a tit-for-tat move, as officials continue to pressure Canada to release Ms Meng.
Even as the men are being held for suspected activities that endanger national security, some Chinese businesses and netizens have called for the boycott of Canadian products in a wave of nationalistic fervour that has swept through sections of society.
Clothing brand Canada Goose was forced to postpone the opening of its flagship store in Beijing’s hip Sanlitun yesterday, citing “construction reasons”, after bloggers on the country’s biggest Weibo platform threatened to protest at the store opening.
At least one of Huawei’s suppliers, Menpad, also threatened to fine its staff if they buy an iPhone in the next three years, and reward employees who buy a Huawei phone, with a 15 per cent subsidy.
Said a 46-year-old blogger on Weibo yesterday: “I’ve never hated a country I don’t know. This country is Canada. It’s a joke that a sovereign country would humiliate itself by being another country’s ‘dog’. Justice will win, and my powerful motherland will win.”
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