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Former secretary for home affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping at the China Energy Fund Committee in Wan Chai. Photo: Franke Tsang

Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho sought help from Beijing to fight bribery charges, court documents show

Prosecutor has accused Ho of getting financial support for his legal fees from an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm

Patrick Ho

Former Hong Kong home affairs minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping, who is detained in New York for allegedly bribing officials in Africa, had sought help from Beijing, claiming he was being used to “get to the big tiger”, the latest court documents have revealed.

The documents, filed to the Southern District Court in New York, also revealed Ho believed he was being used to “discredit” China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”. The prosecutor accused Ho of getting financial support for at least part of his legal fees from an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm, which funded the think tank the former official heads and is implicated in the bribery case.

The prosecutor told the court in the latest batch of documents that “the government has learned that the energy company appears to have played a central role in both choosing and funding [Ho’s counsel]”. The papers did not name the company.

In this courtroom sketch, former Hong Kong home affairs minister Patrick Ho Chi-pin, third from left, pleads not guilty to charges of corruption in a New York court. Photo: AP

Ho pleaded not guilty in a federal court on January 9 to accusations that he offered US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes to government officials in Africa in return for oil rights in Uganda and Chad for an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm he represented.

The parties named by the prosecution in the investigation are Huaxin Petroleum (USA) LLC, a subsidiary of CEFC China Energy and the China Energy Fund Committee (NYC) LLC, the US branch of Ho’s think tank, China Energy Fund Committee (USA) Inc.

Ho told his friend in a phone call he made while in custody on December 10, which was recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, why he thought he was arrested and asked for help from the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CCCP).

Patrick Ho’s lawyers accuse US authorities of using ‘illegally’ obtained evidence in charges for US$2.9 million corruption scandal

“Ho says the following: he will not betray his friends and his country, and he stays strong because he has a sense of mission; ‘they’ are using him to get to the big tiger”, and to discredit “the Belt and Road”, a translation of the phone conversation’s summary submitted to court read. Ho did not elaborate on what he meant by “the big tiger”.

The belt and road strategy refers to China’s plan to revive and develop trade routes between Asia and the rest of the world.

“Ho asks UM (Ho’s friend) to send requests to the CCCP to ask the upper level to get involved, explaining that this will be a hard legal battle, because historically ‘they’ have won 90 per cent of all cases,” the document read.

But the FBI document quoted Ho as saying that he would “not bend under pressure even if he has to die here”.

Ho told his friend that “Shanghai made great efforts and hired the best lawyer” to join his legal team, adding “Shanghai” owes the CCCP, “so they do their best to help Ho”, according to the summary.

While the document did not elaborate on what “Shanghai” referred to, Ho’s close ties with the Shanghai-based energy firm were revealed in a chain of emails filed to court.

Ho stated in the emails that the case meant the “country” and the “CEFC” company were both on the line.

Patrick Ho challenges six of eight charges against him in US$2.9 million corruption scandal

“For it is not only Ho who is on trial, it is CEFC, the company, [the] country and Chinese values,” Ho wrote to Liu Yadong, chief executive of CEFC China Energy subsidiary, CEFC Global Strategic Holdings, four days after his arrest.

He also pledged in the same email that he would “never do anything to dishonour my name, my family, my company CEFC, and my country”.

CEFC China Energy said last November after Ho’s arrest that it had no “commercial relations of authorisation” with the CEFC think tank. As the news broke in November last year, the state-owned Global Times quoted an anonymous top officer at CEFC saying that there were “deep international political motives” behind the case.

Hearing postponed for former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho indicted in US over US$2.9 million bribe scheme

In the latest submissions to court, the prosecution rejected Ho’s accusations that he was being used to get the “big tiger” and discredit the belt and road plan as “meritless”.

“But the fact that Ho appears repeatedly to have promoted this meritless view should give this court great pause before assuming that he and his well-connected supporters would not press the Hong Kong government – of which Ho is a former senior member – to take the same meritless view,” the documents stated.

The prosecution also objected to Ho’s third bail application, saying his bargain to add two more properties in Hong Kong as surety – belonging to his mother and brother – was “meaningless” and “an invention”.

It pointed to the fact that as the properties are in China, it makes it impossible for the US government to rescind them. “Ho’s bail package is unchanged,” the prosecution argued. “It remains woefully insufficient.”

The court will hear his third bail application next Wednesday.

One of Ho’s lawyers, Edward Kim said the legal team had no comments at this time.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Ho ‘sought help from Beijing over bribery case’