Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho fails to have corruption charges against him thrown out of court
Ho is accused of offering US$2.9 million of bribes to government officials in Africa in advancing oil and development rights in Uganda and Chad for Shanghai-based CEFC China Energy
A US federal judge denied Patrick Ho Chi-ping’s push to drop most of bribery charges against him, another setback for the former Hong Kong minister’s legal battle.
The decision, handed down by New York Southern District judge Loretta Preska on Friday Hong Kong time, means that Ho, detained in the US for eight months so far, will face all eight counts of bribery and money laundering at trial in November.
Ho was arrested in New York last November and later charged with offering US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes to government officials in Africa to advance oil and development rights in Uganda and Chad for Shanghai-based CEFC China Energy.
The accounts to which the money was sent were respectively designated to Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa and former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Gadio.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get bail since his arrest, Ho stepped up his legal challenge against US prosecutors by applying to have six of the eight charges against him dropped, and almost all evidence against him discounted.
Benjamin Rosenberg of Dechert LLP, part of Ho’s defence team, argued the prosecution brought the wrong charge against the defendant under three Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) offences, because Ho was a foreigner and not a US citizen.
Preska ruled that FCPA has provisions allowing foreign nationals working as agents for entities registered in the US to be indicted for violations of the act.
In a six-page paper filed to court on Wednesday, the prosecution reiterated its assertion that a non-US resident serving as director or representative of US-based organisation could be brought under a FCPA charge.
The government cited the case of Macau businessman Ng Lap Seng, who was jailed under a similar FCPA charge.
Preska also denied Rosenberg’s contention that remittances from an HSBC account in Hong Kong to a Mashreq Bank account in Dubai controlled by Gadio – via an HSBC account in the US and then a Mashreq account in the US – did not violate FCPA. In order to do so, the lawyer argued, the funds would have had to originate from a US-based account or have landed in a US-based account as the transactions’ final stage.
The judge ruled FCPA was violated when funds landed in the US HSBC account and when they were remitted from the US Mashreq account.
On the matter of the movement of money, the prosecution said: “All that matters for purposes of this statute is that the funds go from outside the United States to inside the United States, or vice versa, even if transported by hand-delivery.
“The manner of that movement of funds is irrelevant.”
Preska also batted down a motion by Edward Kim of Krieger Kim & Lewin LLP, another member of Ho’s team, to suppress evidence in the form of emails and text messages from the defendant’s electronic devices. Kim argued that such “non-testimonial evidence” is not admissible because law enforcement officials obtained them before reading Ho his Miranda rights.
In her ruling, Preska said the electronic communications were only reviewed after a search warrant was issued, adding that “there was probable cause to issue a search warrant”.
The officers who detained Ho requested the password for the iPad and cell phone he was carrying at the time only to put the devices in aeroplane mode “so they could not be wiped remotely”.