Co-accused in former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho’s US$2.9 million corruption scandal seeks deal with US prosecutors
Former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Gadio has been under house arrest and has not been charged or taken to court to plead, even though Ho was indicted last December
While former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping challenges US authorities’ accusations against him of money laundering and bribery, his co-defendant is trying to strike a deal with prosecutors.
Cheikh Gadio, the former Senegal foreign minister arrested in New York last November, has not been charged or taken to court to plead, even though Ho – who was Hong Kong’s home affairs secretary from 2002 to 2007 – was indicted last December.
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Prosecutors have postponed Gadio’s plea hearing five times since December, with each application to postpone the procedure only valid for 30 days. Each time, prosecutors said they wanted to “continue the foregoing discussion”.
In March and April’s applications, they added that both sides were trying to “reach a potential disposition”, referring to the final charge or sentence faced by the defendant.
“These discussions have not been completed and we plan to continue,” prosecutors told the New York Southern District Court in their latest application.
“The ends of justice served by the grant of the requested continuance outweigh the best interests of the public and defendant in a speedy trial.”
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One source with direct knowledge of the matter said both sides were hoping to complete discussions “within the coming weeks”. The US Department of State said it could not comment on talks with Gadio. Gadio’s lawyer, Sean Heckar, said he could not comment “at the moment”.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Sinclair, now a partner at Davis Polk in Hong Kong, noted that the developments could signal a cooperative agreement, or plans for the defendant potentially to testify in a related case. Both sides could also agree on a sentence – such as a fine or imprisonment – before the defendant entered a plea bargain.
Such discussions were not under way for Ho, the Post learned, and both his legal team and the US Department of Justice did not want to comment on why that was the case.
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Gadio, a US resident, faces five counts of money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), for allegedly conspiring with Ho to offer a US$2 million bribe to the President of Chad Idriss Déby, to secure oil rights for a Shanghai-based firm.
The firm was recently revealed in prosecution documents to be CEFC China Energy.
An official complaint brought against Gadio and Ho last November said the former was a middleman between Ho and Déby. He allegedly arranged for Ho, the secretary general for a think tank funded by CEFC China Energy, and a delegation from the firm to visit Chad in November 2014.
While the company has been named as being under investigation in court documents, it has not been accused of any crimes.
According to prosecutors, Gadio followed up on the visit with a message to Ho: reward the president “with a nice financial package”. Ho’s think tank allegedly signed a consultancy contract with Gadio and eventually paid him US$400,000.
Last month, Ho challenged six of eight charges against him – three related to money laundering and three for violating the FCPA. He also filed his third bail application, which the prosecution is seeking to contest.
It has also sought to have Ho’s lawyer replaced, saying CEFC China Energy was paying his legal costs, which could create a potential conflict of interest for Ho’s legal team if Ho decides to argue at the trial that he was following orders from his superiors at the energy firm.
“The energy company and/or its affiliates likely would not support such an argument,” the prosecution said.
In stark contrast, Gadio has only been placed under house arrest. He is allowed to leave his home in Maryland to go to his lawyer’s New York and Washington offices without the need for a court order.
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Sinclair, the former deputy chief of the New York Eastern District Attorney’s Office’s general crimes section, said he was not commenting on Ho’s case specifically but that in general a defendant entering an agreement with prosecutors would need to keep terms of the settlement confidential.
“There would be additional opportunity for leniency,” he said, with the judge able to hand down a lighter sentence.
He noted however that for people charged under the FCPA there are no guidelines on the range of reduction for sentences and this “solely” depends on the judge.