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Patrick Ho

Patrick Ho challenges six of eight charges against him in US$2.9 million corruption scandal

Lawyers for the former Hong Kong minister argue that HSBC, not Ho, routed money through New York bank when he sent US$900,000 to African officials’ accounts in Dubai and Uganda

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 12:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 12:06pm

Detained former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping made a fresh push on Monday to get six of the eight charges against him in the US – three related to money laundering and three for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – dropped.

His trial had been tentatively set for November this year, after Ho pleaded not guilty in a federal court on January 9 to accusations that he offered US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes to government officials in Africa in return for oil rights in Uganda and Chad for an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm he represented.

On Monday, Ho’s lawyers applied to the New York Southern District Court for the six charges to be dropped, and revealed for the first time that the 68-year-old had used the largest bank in Hong Kong, HSBC, to send US$900,000 to accounts designated by Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa and former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Gadio in 2015 and 2016.

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But Ho “had no control” over HSBC remitting the funds via a New York bank before the amounts reached accounts in Dubai and Uganda, the lawyers argued in a 27-page submission. 

Ho, who was Hong Kong’s home affairs secretary from 2002 to 2007, “did not purposefully avail himself” of the services of an American correspondent bank, they added. And because he had no control over the money being sent via New York, his lawyers’ argument went, he should not be facing charges in a US court.

“The determination to send the wires through the United States was made by the originating bank, in this case HSBC Hong Kong,” the submission read.

“Temporarily passing ‘through’ a correspondent bank in the United States is not the same as coming ‘from’ or going ‘to’ the United States.

“That the wires would pass ‘through’ the United States was a result of the decisions and operations of a private party (the bank), that could not be reasonably anticipated by Dr Ho.”

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There was no mention of the other two charges, also under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, related to provisions banning US companies and citizens from offering benefits to foreign officials. According to Ho’s indictment, the unnamed energy firm has a New York office, and Gadio is a US resident.

But the lawyers did raise a technical challenge, pointing out that for three of the five charges under the act, the prosecutor had charged Ho under the wrong provisions.

The prosecution is expected to respond to the application by May 16, and the court may have to reschedule the June 1 pretrial hearing, as Ho is likely to file an application to rebut the prosecution on June 4. 

Ho has been in federal custody since his arrest in November 2017 and has twice been denied bail.

On Monday, he filed his third bail application and offered his mother’s and brother’s flats, worth US$2.8 million and US$1.2 million respectively, as part of the bail amount.

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Ho is the beneficiary of his mother’s flat, while his brother’s flat has a mortgage of almost US$500,000. The court documents did not say where the flats were.

In a separate letter to the court, Ho’s legal team said the inclusion of family properties and “the moral cost of flight – irreparably harming close family and friends” meant he had little incentive to skip bail.

The letter continued by referring to reports that Ye Jianming, chairman of CEFC China Energy, was under investigation, and that CEFC was the company Ho had been representing.

If Ho bolted, “it is doubtful he could find refuge in Hong Kong or China”, and he “would be viewed as a criminal and not a political hero in the international community”, the letter said.

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A source told the Post earlier this month that Ye had not been arrested, but was assisting authorities in China with their inquiries.

The full bail amount now includes the two flats and Ho’s earlier proposal of US$10 million guaranteed by five friends, US$2 million of his personal cash and his willingness to be placed under house arrest in Manhattan with an electronic tag.