Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho accused of being illegal arms dealer by US prosecutors as they turn up heat ahead of New York bribery trial
Authorities drop bombshell with 32-page filing in Southern District Court which alleges that China Energy Fund Committee boss sold weapons to Libya and Qatar
United States prosecutors have alleged that former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping, who will go on trial for bribery next month, illegally sold weapons to Libya and Qatar in 2015.
Officials dropped the bombshell in a 32-page document filed on Tuesday in New York. Included in the document are emails that reportedly show Ho brokered “arms transactions” via an unnamed intermediary.
In the emails, Ho’s contact also hints at selling weapons to South Sudan, which has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since 2013, seeing hundreds of thousands of people killed in ethnic violence.
Arrested and detained since November 2017, Ho has been charged with five counts of bribery, and three of money laundering, in connection with US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes prosecutors say were offered to officials in Uganda and Chad, for advancing oil and development rights to Shanghai-based oil conglomerate CEFC China Energy.
At the time, Ho was serving as the secretary general of think tank China Energy Fund Committee, which was funded by CEFC.
Authorities allege Ho also promised to relay a request from Chad President Idriss Déby for China’s military assistance in cracking down on Islamist group Boko Haram, as part of the bribe.
While not filing charges for the arms dealing, which occurred outside the US, prosecutors want to use the new evidence to prove Ho has a track record of doing business involving military transactions and oil rights in Middle East and Asia, in return for favourable terms for CEFC’s business interests in the region.
According to the document filed with the New York Southern District Court, the intermediary, who is unnamed, first emailed Ho a document listing “numerous arms” and end-user certificates to use those weapons, in March 2015.
The certificate, which is typically used in the international arms trade, showed the buyer as the Libyan Ministry of Defence.
“We have the funding and processing mechanisms in place. If it works nice, there will be much more. Also for S. Sudan,” the email reads.
An email sent by Ho to his contact one month later, showed that the minister was fully aware that Libya was under a military embargo, and the parties “cannot sell directly” to Libya.
In April 2015, Ho also offered to arrange an arms sale to Qatar, which has no embargo.
“Qatar needs new toys quite urgently,” wrote Ho in the email. “Their chief is coming to China, and we hope to give them a piece of good news.”
The scope or quantity of the weapons in question is unclear, and the prosecution did not identify the “Qatar chief”, or the intermediary.
Ho’s legal team did not immediately respond to a Post request for comment.
Former defendant Cheikh Gadio, who has agreed to testify against Ho in exchange for changes against him being dropped, is expected to tell the court that Ho told him, “CEFC could provide arms and military equipment to Chad as part of an oil deal”, the prosecution said.
In one undated email, Gadio asked Ho: “Do you think CEFC can intervene with the Chinese state to get an urgent, extremely confidential and significant military weapon assistance to our friend [the President of Chad] who has engaged in the battle of his life against the devils of Bokko Haram”
Ho replied to Gadio that the request has, “been given the highest level of consideration”.
While CEFC has previously distanced itself from the case, China has shown willingness in the past to assist Chad in cracking down on extremist groups.
In early September, President Xi Jinping said China had met with Déby during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing.
Other than expressing a willingness to work with Chad on cooperating on energy exploration and exploitation, Xi also said China “would also like to assist Chad in strengthening its capacities in counterterrorism”, according to Chinese state media.
Separately, Ho was also allegedly providing US$50,000 and a free Hong Kong trip to John Ashe, the president of the United Nations General Assembly from 2013 to 2014, in exchange for further cooperation after Ashe stepped down.
US prosecutors have already charged Ho with offering a bribe to Ashe’s successor, Sam Kutesa, who is Uganda’s foreign minister. The bride reportedly included US$500,000 from CEFC to support Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s re-election campaign.
Ashe was charged with failing to disclose a bribe in a separate case, but died before the trial.
According to a transcribed phone conversation in July 2014, Ashe’s aide pressed Ho regarding a contribution to Ashe, with Ho telling the aide only part of the sum had been paid.
In an apparent attempt to ease the aide’s concern, Ho quickly added that, “the major contribution will come in after we talk about what [Ashe] can help us with [after he left the UN]”.
Ho reportedly told the aide, the “contribution” to Ashe was not a problem, and hinted that it was a matter of “give and take”.
Prosecutors have also not charged Ho in relation to his dealings with Ashe, but want to use the evidence to dispute Ho’s claim that similar contributions in Chad and Uganda were merely for charity. The aide Ho spoke to has already pleaded guilty in a separate bribery case.
A final pretrial hearing will be held at the district court on October 23, where apart from Ho’s bail application, the judge is likely to decide whether to accept or strike out evidence requested by both the prosecution and defence.
Separately, Ho has applied to limit or even strike out testimony provided by Gadio, including Gadio’s recollection of Ho’s meetings with Déby in November and December 2014. Gadio earlier told prosecutors that Ho offered US$2 million in cash, concealed in a gift to the president in December 2014.