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Patrick Ho

Ex-Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho indicted in US over alleged US$2.9 million in bribes to African officials

Former home affairs secretary is accused of paying off presidents of Chad and Uganda, among others, on behalf of Chinese oil company

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 8:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 7:29am

Former Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping is set to appear in a US court next month after he was formally indicted on eight bribery and money laundering charges related to pay-offs to government officials in Africa that gave a Chinese energy company access to oil rights in Chad.

The arraignment and initial pretrial conference has been scheduled for January 8 in which Ho would be asked to enter a plea, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York told Hong Kong media on Tuesday.

Ho, 68, was part of “a scheme to pay and offer money and other things of value to foreign officials in Africa, including the president of Chad, the Ugandan foreign minister and the president of Uganda, to obtain business for” a Shanghai-based energy company, according to an indictment issued by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York on Monday.

Ho, who had been working for an arm of CEFC China Energy after he left the Hong Kong government, allegedly sent US$2.9 million worth of bribes to Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, and Ho’s co-defendant, Cheikh Gadio, formerly Senegal’s foreign minister.

The former Hong Kong official, who has been in US custody since the original complaint was brought against him and Gadio last month, was indicted on fives counts of violating of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and three on money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was enacted to stop companies and individuals operating in the country from using bribery or other forms of corruption to gain an advantage against competitors in other countries.

The case against Ho and Gadio was based on their use of the US banking system to process almost US$2.5 million in pay-offs, sent under the guise of donations originating from Hong Kong and conducted by China Energy Fund Committee, an NGO with “special consultative status” at the United Nations. Ho is listed as deputy chairman and secretary general of the organisation.

The complaint accused Ho of offering US$2 million in bribes to Chad’s president, who in turn allegedly pledged an exclusive opportunity for the company he represented to obtain particular oil rights in Chad without facing international competition.

CEFC China Energy was not named in the lawsuit. However, the complaint identified the chairman of the unnamed company as someone who was appointed as a “special honorary adviser” to the president of the UN General Assembly in 2015, when Kutesa held that position.

What the reaction to the Patrick Ho case says about China’s global ambitions

Ho, who was arrested in New York, was charged with paying Gadio US$400,000, according to the court documents, which identified the African officials only by their titles.

Under the second scheme, Ho was found to have facilitated a US$500,000 bribe to be paid to an account designated by Uganda’s foreign minister.

Ugandan foreign minister Kutesa, meanwhile, is now facing a probe at home with the speaker of the parliament directing the country’s Financial Intelligence Agency to investigate his bank account and report back in one week on whether the alleged bribe was paid into his account.

The US lawsuit also accused Ho of providing Uganda’s president and Kutesa with gifts and promises of future benefits – including a share of the profits from a potential joint venture between CEFC and companies controlled by parties connected to the Ugandan officials, US authorities said.

The indictment also stated that Ho would have to forfeit any and all property involved in the said offences, or the amount of property involved in said offences that he personally obtained to the United States as a result of committing the alleged offences.

Ho, a practising eye surgeon before he joined the Hong Kong government in 2002, treated one of the key Chinese officials in charge of talks with Britain before Hong Kong’s handover to the mainland in 1997. After he stepped down as the city’s secretary for home affairs in 2007, he joined China Energy Fund Committee as secretary general of its Hong Kong Non-Governmental Fund Committee, starting what he called a life of “civil diplomacy” and focusing on energy strategies and Sino-US dialogues. He also served for several years on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory body.

China Energy Fund Committee has special consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, giving it access to influential decision makers in UN bodies, among other things. But Ho’s access to the United Nations’ top echelons is now cited as laying the groundwork for some of the events deemed criminal by the US authorities.

Ho’s case also highlights the legal pitfalls of doing business for Chinese firms in unfamiliar places. According to legal specialists, Chinese companies were putting themselves in danger by not having enough expertise to assess legal risks as they sought to expand their presence offshore, particularly as Beijing ramped up its “Belt and Road Initiative” to link China with the rest of Asia, Africa and Europe.

Personal ties were an important part of doing business in China but the cultivation of these connections in other countries could cross a legal red line, they said.

Ho’s lawyer, Edward Kim of New York law firm Krieger Kim & Lewin LLP, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email sent after regular business hours.

Additional reporting by Timothy Sibasi in Uganda