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Patrick Ho

Uganda denies minister was bribed by former Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho

US Department of Justice claims Ho considered setting up yuan exchange centre in Uganda with the family of foreign minister Sam Kutesa

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 11:53pm

Uganda on Friday rejected US accusations that its foreign minister curried favour with a Chinese energy firm in return for US$500,000 in bribes from Patrick Ho Chi-ping, Hong Kong’s former home affairs secretary now under arrest in the US on corruption charges.

According to the Department of Justice in the United States, Ho was contemplating last year setting up Africa’s first yuan exchange centre in Uganda by collaborating with the family of foreign minister Sam Kutesa.

It did not name the company in question, but Ho was at the time secretary general of an NGO funded by CEFC China Energy, the biggest non-state Chinese energy firm.

Hong Kong ex-minister Patrick Ho ‘staying strong’ as he prepares to plead not guilty to US bribe charge

He is accused of bribing Kutesa in the name of donations to the re-election campaign of President Yoweri Museveni, who is the foreign minister’s brother-in-law and has been in power since 1986.

Ho, 68, was arrested in the United States last Saturday for allegedly funnelling a total of US$2.9 million in bribes to Kutesa, Chad’s President Idriss Deby and former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Gadio in return for oil rights for the energy firm.

According to a claim by Washington, which was rejected by the Ugandan government, Ho started the bribery scheme in the halls of the United Nations when Kutesa was president of the United Nations General Assembly in 2014.

“It is … erroneous to insinuate or infer that Kutesa, from references made to him and CEFC in the [media stories], is linked to the bribery allegations,” a Ugandan foreign ministry spokesman said.

In May 2016, according to the Department of Justice, Ho sent the foreign minister’s wife a number of emails, one of which stated: “[The energy company] would like to partner with the [Ugandan foreign minister’s family] enterprise and would like to invest through you and with your family businesses (and the president’s) who can be the local operators.”

In another email, sent to the minister himself, Ho said the firm was “very enthusiastic” about joint-ventures in Uganda, especially with his family, adding: “If this very first step is successful, the doors are widely open for any future undertakings in the country and in the region.”

Ho was planning a number of business opportunities for the Chinese energy firm, including an airport, an energy industrial park, property development, high-speed railways, acquisition of a bank, and rebuilding Uganda Airlines, US prosecutors alleged.

In October last year, Ho attended a ceremony celebrating the new presidential term of Museveni, who is now the world’s seventh longest-serving leader after the downfall of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe this week.

A Ugandan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Ho attended the ceremony, as was shown in photos uploaded to the website of China Energy Fund Committee, the CEFC China Energy subsidiary. But he could not confirm whether Ho held meetings with the president or foreign minister.

Former Hong Kong home secretary turned ‘civil diplomat’ Patrick Ho tapped UN connections to broker deals

Kutesa’s office insisted that met Ho during his UN tenure on the basis that the China Energy Fund Committee was a non-governmental organisation which had consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.

“It should be noted that CEFC’s collaboration with the UN predated Kutesa’s tenure as [president of the General Assembly] and has continued with successive [presidents],” the statement said.

Chad’s government on Tuesday denied the US allegations that its president was bribed, calling it an American effort to tarnish Chad’s image.

CEFC China Energy and the committee it funded had rejected suggestions that Ho was acting on their behalf as far as the US allegations were concerned.

Ho and Gadio are each charged with violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and of money laundering.

According to people who had contacted Ho, who faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail, he was planning to apply for bail. Ho’s lawyer declined to comment.