No payment needed – proof that Patrick Ho intended to offer bribes could be enough to convict, US judge tells jurors in US$2.9 million corruption trial
- Judge Loretta Preska gives detailed direction to nine women and three men who will decide fate of former Hong Kong minister
The authorities needed only to show that Patrick Ho Chi-ping had intended or helped to offer bribes to African officials for jurors to find the former Hong Kong minister guilty of corruption, even if no payment or deal was made in the end, a US judge said on Tuesday local time.
New York Southern District Court judge Loretta Preska was instructing the panel of nine women and three men, who are set to begin deliberations on Wednesday and may well determine the fate of Ho the same day, even though the court is technically closed to mourn the death of late former president George H.W. Bush.
Ho, who served as Hong Kong’s home affairs minister from 2002 to 2007, is accused of offering US$2.9 million in bribes to the leaders of Chad and Uganda, and to the foreign minister of Uganda. He faces a total of eight counts of bribery and money laundering, to which he earlier pleaded not guilty. The prosecution has to secure a unanimous verdict from the jury for each charge.
Preska’s guidance reflected the two major disputes in the case: the nature of the payment made to the African leaders and the credibility of defendant turned witness Cheikh Gadio.
The payments, according to the prosecution, were made in exchange for oil and development rights for Shanghai-based energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy.
The defence has, however, argued during the seven-day trial that the money was a charitable donation made in goodwill to the African nations to forge long-term relations. This included the US$2 million allegedly presented to Chadian president Idriss Deby in gift boxes at a low-key meeting in a rural Chad village.
In its closing submission on Monday, the prosecution said Ho “cheated again and again” by offering payments to secure advantages for CEFC while working for a think tank registered as a charity and funded by the energy firm.
“The defendant labelled [the payments] as donations and contributions – they were not even close. The defendant wanted business and paid money to get it,” assistant US attorney Douglas Zolkind said.
He urged the jury to use “common sense” to weigh the scenario in which the millions of dollars in cash had been delivered.
“That is not how major corporations make donations,” Zolkind said.
The defence, however, argued it was Gadio, the middleman between Chad and CEFC, who suggested the company and Ho offer “secret or very confidential financial assistance” to Deby for an “entry ticket” to the Chadian oil market.
Defence counsel Edward Kim repeatedly said Gadio, a former Senegalese foreign minister, had lied while testifying as a key witness in the case and had a “rotten” history of seeking and pocketing monetary offers.
“If that US$2 million was a bribe, CEFC would have chased after Ho,” Kim said. “But Deby was the one [said to be] pursuing CEFC. The only man [who] wanted this deal to happen, that’s Gadio.”
The lawyer added that no deal was reached with either Chad or Uganda.
“[CEFC] must be the nicest briber in the world,” Kim said sarcastically.
In a detailed direction to the jurors, Preska reminded them that whether CEFC had secured a deal or made an actual payment was not something that should affect their deliberation.
“The moment the offer or authorisation [to make an offer] is made, that completes the crime,” the judge said, adding that the burden of proof rested with the prosecution.
She also warned, without specifically pinpointing Gadio, that the jury should scrutinise witnesses under non-prosecution agreements with care.
While the defence had launched a fierce attack on Gadio's credibility, the judge said, the testimony of a witness should not be considered on an “all or nothing” basis.
“Even if the testimony was false on one part, you may still accept other parts,” Preska said. “That determination is entirely up to you.”
Alvin Lum is reporting from New York