Former Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho denied bail in US bribery case
Judge says there is a high risk ex-official will attempt to flee the country
A US court has rejected bail for former Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping, saying there was a high risk he would attempt to flee the country and prosecution lawyers had “strong evidence” he had colluded with African officials.
The prosecution said Ho faced more than a decade in jail if found guilty of violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering.
Ho is accused of funnelling US$2.9 million in bribes through the US banking system to secure benefits for a top Chinese energy firm.
Defence counsel Edward Kim, who failed to convince the judge that Ho had no intention of fleeing, said his client would lodge an appeal against the court’s decision.
The setback for Ho stood in remarkable contrast to the partial bail secured earlier by his co-defendant Cheikh Gadio, the former Senegalese foreign minister who was given permission to transfer from a detention facility to house arrest.
The duo were allegedly behind a bribery scheme that involved Chad’s president Idriss Deby and Sam Kutesa, the foreign minister of Uganda. CEFC China Energy, which fully funded an NGO of which Ho was secretary general before his arrest, has denied involvement.
However, the US Department of Justice has not named the Chadian and Ugandan officials or the Chinese company in question.
Hong Kong ex-minister Patrick Ho ‘staying strong’ as he prepares to plead not guilty to US bribe charge
On Friday prosecutors alleged that Ho hatched the scheme at the United Nations when the Ugandan foreign minister was president of the UN General Assembly. Beginning in October 2014, the pair arranged bribes to secure business advantages for a Shanghai-based multibillion-dollar conglomerate that operated internationally in the energy and financial sectors, court papers said.
Arguing against bail for Ho, Assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal told the judge that the officials Ho allegedly bribed would have an incentive to help him get out of the United States and into countries without extradition treaties.
“There are a lot of people who would rather not see what the defendant did aired in open court,” Richenthal said.
The prosecutor also dismissed Ho’s lawyer’s request for him to be released on US$1 million cash bail, saying Ho was worth up to US$8 million and faced more than 10 years in prison if convicted.
“His incentive to flee is massive,” Richenthal said. “His ability to flee is massive.”
Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman agreed with the prosecution and ruled out a defence proposal to put Ho under home detention with electronic monitoring at a rented New York flat.
The judge cited “that the defendant has reasons that would give him means to flee, that the defendant has substantial expenses with foreign travel, and that the charges against the defendant are serious and the government proffers that it has strong evidence against him”.
Ho lacked any ties – family, residential or financial – to America, and rather had strong ties to other countries, especially Hong Kong, Freeman said.
But defence lawyer Kim described his client as a respected US-trained eye doctor and former cabinet minister in Hong Kong.
“To flee would be a disgrace,” Kim said. “It would destroy everything he has worked for. It would destroy his reputation.”