Energy firm executive makes surprise appearance at former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho’s bail hearing
CEFC China Energy was only recently confirmed as Shanghai-based company in Ho’s HK$22.8 million bribery case
A surprise guest appearance in the audience at the bail hearing of detained former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping has raised further questions about his links to a Chinese energy conglomerate.
Liu Yadong, an executive from CEFC China Energy’s United States subsidiary, was seen attending the New York Southern District Court hearing in the early hours of Thursday morning Hong Kong time. He declined to answer reporters’ questions afterwards.
In an email reply to the Post, Liu also declined to comment further on his presence in the courtroom: “I am not a company spokesman on this and am not that involved,” he wrote.
The hearing – which marked Ho’s third application for bail – was adjourned to May 17, pending further submissions from the prosecution and the defence on a potential conflict of interest for Ho’s legal team.
Ho, the secretary general of a think tank funded by CEFC China Energy, was arrested in New York in late November last year. He faces three charges for money laundering and five for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by offering US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes to African government officials in return for oil rights for the energy firm he represented.
The company was previously identified only as a “Shanghai-based energy company”. CEFC China Energy’s alleged involvement in the case was spelt out only recently in evidence filed to the court.
Liu’s appearance was the first time any CEFC China Energy executive had been seen at one of Ho’s court hearings since the former Hong Kong home secretary’s arrest.
According to earlier email evidence submitted to the court, Ho reached out to Liu days after his arrest and said “in times like this, one just has to count his friends”.
Evidence also showed Ho said to Liu last November: “I hope that you can play a role in liaising between the parties.”
The Post has learned Ho received visits from at least one CEFC executive about a month ago, during which Ho was described to be in “good health and good spirits”. The source however declined to comment on whether CEFC China Energy had paid Ho’s legal costs, as alleged by the prosecution.
Days ahead of Ho’s third bail application hearing, the prosecution said the energy company may have been paying his legal costs, a move that could create a potential conflict of interest for Ho’s legal team.
“The defendant may wish to argue at trial that he was acting at the direction of his superiors at the energy company,” the prosecution wrote in a submission filed on Tuesday. “The energy company and/or its affiliates likely would not support such an argument.”
During the two-hour hearing, Ho’s lawyer Andrew Levander said he did not represent CEFC China Energy in the case and stressed he could tell the difference between representing an individual and a company. He admitted however that a subsidiary of CEFC had paid a retainer for Ho’s defence.
Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho sought help from Beijing to fight bribery charges, court documents show
Judge Katherine Forrest said she had yet to see a substantive conflict of interest but would require the defence to make a further submission to respond to the prosecution’s inquiry.
The judge also asked the prosecution and defence to clarify whether the US government could effectively seize two flats in Hong Kong that belonged to Ho’s mother and brother. Ho had offered the property, estimated by the defence to be worth US$4 million in total, as part of his bail.
Both sides will also make submissions on the projected length of imprisonment for the offence, to better reflect the likelihood of Ho fleeing. These issues, along with his legal team's potential conflict of interest, are expected to be resolved at the May 17 hearing.
The US Department of Justice confirmed it would summon CEFC China Energy chairman Ye Jianming to clarify the issue of legal costs.
Ho will remain in custody before the hearing.