Ex-Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho is denied bail for third time as he faces corruption and money laundering charges in US court
The former Hong Kong home affairs secretary, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is expected to face trial in November
Former Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho had a bail application quashed for a third time on Thursday by a US federal judge.
Judge Katherine Forrest of Federal District Court in New York denied the bail application after considering additional documents submitted by Ho, who faces money laundering and corruption charges, saying that he should still be considered a flight risk.
There are arguments that could “reasonably motivate him to flee, or to stand to fight in court”, Forrest said. “But I am leaning towards the motivation to flight at this point in time.”
The decision was another setback to Ho’s bid to be freed from detention in favour of house arrest before his trial, which is expected to begin in November. Ho has been behind bars since he was arrested six months ago at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Ho has been charged with three counts of money laundering and five counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is accused of offering US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes to African government officials in return for oil rights in Uganda and Chad for an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm he represented.
The firm was later revealed to be CEFC China Energy, and Ho was working for a think tank financed by the company at the time of his arrest.
Ho, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, had previously sought bail with a US$10 million personal recognisance bond, secured by US$2 million cash surety, and submitted to house arrest as part of a bail package.
He challenged six of the eight charges against him and filed his third bail application last month. In the latest attempt, he proposed to add his mother and brother’s flats in Hong Kong into the equation, while also increasing the cash surety to US$3 million.
The defence signalled that the deeds to the flats – valued at a combined US$4 million – could be handed to the court, with both relatives stating formally that the government could sell them if Ho fled.
Ho’s team also revised its estimate of the prison time he could face if convicted on all counts to 12 to 15 years, while the prosecution put the estimate at 24 to 30 years. By either estimate, Ho, now 68, would be at least 80 by the time he is released.
A defence lawyer argued before the court that Ho was not going to flee and leave his mother and brother homeless.
“This man wants to vindicate himself” to “fight for his name, his family's name and Hong Kong's name”, the lawyer said, adding that Ho has stated that “I'd rather die in jail.”
Forrest said she didn't discount the factor of his family, “however, there are just too many unknowns to determine” whether he is going to appear in court for trial.
The judge pointed out that Ho had “powerful connections with China”.
“The state-owned company that is paying his legal fees has significant ties with China,” she said, implying that Beijing could come to the rescue and make extradition difficult.
While Forrest acknowledged the differences in systems between Hong Kong and mainland China, “it's not Queens or Connecticut that will allow the government to easily take control of the assets” if Ho flees the US, she said.
“What we are dealing with a very serious case,” Forrest said.
Despite the third denial, Ho is free to make further bail attempts.
His co-defendant, former Senegal foreign minister Cheikh Gadio, is apparently trying to strike a deal with prosecutors. Gadio, who is under house arrest but has not been charged, has been allowed to leave his home in Maryland to go to his lawyer’s New York and Washington offices.
Shortly after his arrest late last year, Ho, while in custody, told an unnamed friend that “‘they’ are using him to get to the big tiger” and to “discredit the Belt and Road”, apparently a reference to China’s major strategy trade routes between Asia and the world.