Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho apologised, was ‘impressed’ by Chadian president’s rejection of US$2 million cash gift: bribery trial witness
- President Idriss Deby felt insulted and disrespected after finding money in boxes from defendant and CEFC China Energy representatives
- Former Senegalese official Cheikh Gadio revealed details of incident to authorities soon after his arrest last November
Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping apologised and said he was “impressed” by Chadian leader Idriss Deby’s rejection of his alleged US$2 million cash gift, a key prosecution witness told a New York court on the third day of Ho’s corruption trial.
The president had felt insulted and disrespected by the alleged bribe, former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Gadio said in his second day of testimony.
Gadio, 62, had told authorities about Ho’s cash offer soon after he was arrested last November, a court document uploaded on Tuesday US time revealed. He is serving as a witness for the US government under a non-prosecution agreement.
In December 2014, Ho and several high-profile members of Shanghai-based private conglomerate CEFC China Energy made their second official visit to Chad to discuss the possible purchase of the country’s largest oil refinery, called Block H. Ho was the secretary general of a think tank funded by the energy giant, while Gadio was the head of Sarata International, a consulting firm that facilitated the meetings.
About eight large boxes were given to Deby at the end of the meeting. Later that day, Gadio was asked to return to the leader’s official residence, where the session had been held. When he arrived, he saw the president looking upset and offended.
“Who do they think I am? Who do they think they are?” Gadio quoted Deby’s reaction after finding money in the boxes. “Why do they believe all African people are corrupt?”
Deby asked to meet the delegation the next day. According to Gadio, the president said at the follow-up meeting: “Among the gift boxes delivered to me was US$2 million in some of the boxes. This is not acceptable, and I need a clear explanation.”
He received an apology from both Ho and CEFC executive director Zang Jianjun for the money in the boxes. According to Gadio, Ho told the president that he was impressed by his reaction.
“This is why I was right to propose working with Chad as a gateway to Africa,” Gadio quoted Ho as saying.
“It was a spontaneous reaction,” the witness added.
After a brief negotiation with Deby on what to do with the “gift”, CEFC offered to send an official letter from China stating the US$2 million was a donation made to the people of Chad. Zang said that if they were to take the money back, it would be humiliating to China.
Gadio said he never discussed the incident with Ho afterward, as they both felt embarrassed.
Ho, 69, who was Hong Kong’s home affairs minister from 2002 to 2007, faces eight charges, including bribery under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money laundering, corruption and conspiracy. He has denied all eight counts.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Douglas Zolkind questioned Gadio on his relationship with the defendant.
The witness said he had, on several occasions, asked Ho for a formal deal between Sarata and CEFC to secure his compensation for his consulting and facilitating work. However, he never received an official agreement.
“We had worked so hard and we spent our own money to prearrange all the meetings,” Gadio said when asked by Zolkind why he did not stop working with Ho and CEFC after not having his terms fulfilled.
“Chad badly needed the contract, and I thought I should continue.”
Gadio had expected to receive a 10 per cent fee for a deal between Chad and CEFC worth roughly US$3 billion, which would have come to about US$300 million.
“Even if we received 1 per cent of the deal, US$30 million, it would have been enough,” he said.
By December 21, 2014, about two weeks after the second meeting in Chad, Gadio’s terms were still not met. In a text message exchange presented in court, Gadio wrote to his son: “Our Chinese friends are strange. Will give them another week, or we will go to Chad and destroy their reputation.”
“It wasn’t a very nice statement of me,” Gadio said, recalling his frustration with CEFC and Ho.
He is expected to continue his testimony on Thursday US time.
While it was previously disclosed that Gadio had entered a non-prosecution agreement with the prosecution in September, in which he agreed to testify against Ho in exchange for having the charges against him dropped, a court document uploaded on Tuesday US time revealed that the former Senegalese official had started cooperating with authorities soon after his arrest a year ago.
“Gadio gave a lengthy, videotaped post-arrest statement,” US Attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote in a legal submission to the court. “In that statement, Gadio admitted this fact [of the US$2 million offered to Deby].”
Gadio had waived his right to remain silent when meeting authorities after being arrested and provided further details about the case, according to a transcript of his first bail hearing on November 18, 2017.
“He spoke for a meaningful period of time, hours, about the facts in the complaint, which I understand in sum he admitted material facts – the gift or payment to the president of Chad for example,” Assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal said during the hearing. “He added some details to those facts that, to be honest, weren’t even in the complaint, and that we [the prosecution] weren’t even aware of.”
Based on details of the non-prosecution agreement disclosed on Tuesday US time, Gadio had agreed to “truthfully testify” at the US authorities’ request and not make any public statement about the case until the hearing was closed. Any false or misleading testimony in court or to the authorities could lead to federal criminal prosecution.
Gadio, however, was not prevented from “freely meeting with and speaking to Ho and his counsel”, although it was unclear if there was such communication.
The agreement also showed that the US Department of Justice had dropped charges involving Gadio’s alleged failure to disclose his US$400,000 consultancy fee from CEFC and other related income in his tax returns between 2012 and 2016.
Ho’s defence previously indicated that it planned to challenge the credibility of the witness. It has also moved to exclude a major part of the non-prosecution-agreement that described Gadio confirming the sum as a bribe.