Ho faces up to 65 years behind bars

Top News | AP and staff reporter 7 Dec 2018

Hong Kong businessman Patrick Ho Chi-ping faces sentencing in March after a US federal jury convicted him of bribing the presidents of two African nations to secure oil rights for a Chinese energy conglomerate - a case that stretched from the halls of the United Nations and highlighted the often blurry line between nongovernmental organizations and private enterprise.

Ho, 69, was found guilty of seven of eight charges, including conspiracy, money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a case that involved several former presidents of the UN General Assembly.

Ho's attorneys did not dispute that he made the payments, including US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) secreted in gift boxes delivered to the president of Chad in 2014. But they insisted the transactions were charitable donations intended to foster goodwill in Chad and Uganda and expand the business of CEFC China Energy .

Ho showed little emotion after the verdict was announced. He addressed reporters from Hong Kong briefly as he left the Manhattan courtroom, saying in Cantonese the outcome had been "expected."

Ho has not yet decided whether he would appeal the verdict.

District Judge Loretta Preska set sentencing for March 14. The maximum penalty for each charge ranges from five to 20 years, meaning Ho could be jailed for up to 65 years.

Originally a well-known ophthalmologist, Ho served as Hong Kong's home affairs secretary between 2002 and 2007, when Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen were chief executives.

He infamously drew the most unlucky fortune stick for the city during Lunar New Year in 2003 - the year of the SARS outbreak - at Che Kung Temple in Sha Tin.

In 1998, Ho married Taiwanese actress Sibelle Hu Huizhong. Hu was not seen in court during the seven-day trial.

The jury harbored little doubt of Ho's criminal intent, but spent some time debating whether the US Justice Department had jurisdiction on some of the counts, said Margaret Ann Withers, the jury forewoman.

Ho was charged and tried in New York, prosecutors said, because several relevant meetings, communications and wire transfers occurred in Manhattan.

"Ho's repeated attempts to corrupt foreign leaders were not business as usual, but criminal efforts to undermine the fairness of international markets and erode the public's faith in its leaders," US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

Prosecutors portrayed Ho as an astute bagman who parlayed his position at the helm of CEFC China Energy's nonprofit think tank to befriend - and line the pockets of - government officials as the oil and gas company sought new business ventures around the world.

Ho's attorneys called the prosecution a "bribery case with no bribe." They insisted Ho took pains to document the payments to the foreign officials and CEFC received nothing in return for the payments.

"He made no attempt to hide what he was doing," defense lawyer Edward Kim said.

Ho did not testify at the trial.

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