US bribery trial ends with former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping branded a cheat ‘like out of a movie’, who undermined world markets
- Prosecutors said Patrick Ho’s use of ‘classic’ bribery as he worked for oil firm CEFC China Energy was ‘not how legitimate business is done’
- But Ho’s defence called the prosecution ‘deeply flawed’ and hammered the credibility of a star prosecution witness
A US prosecutor told a jury on Tuesday that “cheating” by former Hong Kong home affairs minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping undermined faith in the international market by lining the pockets of two African presidents to secure oil rights for a Chinese energy conglomerate.
But a defence attorney for Ho called the prosecution “deeply flawed” and assailed the credibility of a Senegalese diplomat who had been indicted alongside Ho before agreeing to testify for the government.
Ho has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a bribery case that cast a harsh light on several former United Nations officials.
“There’s something rotten about Cheikh Gadio, the man who lied from that witness stand so that he could get a free pass,” the defence attorney, Edward Kim, said in his closing argument, referring to the former foreign minister of Senegal and a critical government witness.
Gadio told jurors last week that Ho and his colleagues at CEFC China Energy paid a US$2 million bribe to the president of Chad amid oil talks in 2014. He said the cash was secreted in gift boxes, and that President Idriss Deby angrily rejected the money and ordered it removed from his compound.
Kim acknowledged the cash payment as well as others made to the president and foreign minister of Uganda. But he insisted the transactions were documented, charitable donations, and that Ho “made no attempt to hide what he was doing.”
Kim told jurors it was Gadio who initially suggested paying a bribe to Chadian leaders, pointing to an email in which Gadio suggested the energy company provide Deby with “secret or very confidential financial assistance” for his political campaigns.
“This was a man who thought politics was a for-profit business,” Kim said, telling jurors that Gadio himself has accepted bribes.
Assistant US Attorney Douglas Zolkind painted an entirely different picture of Ho during the seven-day trial, portraying him as a shrewd and calculating operator who had grown accustomed to throwing money at foreign officials to expand the portfolio of CEFC China Energy around the world. Ho worked for the oil firm after leaving the Hong Kong government.
He pointed to a recorded telephone call in which Ho could be heard discussing a “major contribution” to the late John Ashe, an Antiguan diplomat and former president of the United Nations General Assembly. Ho could be heard describing a practice of “give and take” he expected when making such contributions.
“It’s classic, like something out of a movie,” Zolkind said of Ho’s tactics. “This is not how legitimate business is done.”
Other United Nations ties to the case include the involvement of Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa, who also served as president of the UN General Assembly when Ho first sought him out. Ho is accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Kutesa and his brother-in-law, long-time Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni.
Jurors also heard testimony from another former president of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, a long-time diplomat and former foreign minister to Serbia. Ho befriended Jeremic during his tenure at the United Nations and later secured a consulting job for him at CEFC China Energy.
Jeremic told The Associated Press following his testimony last week that he never witnessed Ho do anything improper.