Ho tells friends he will be out soon on good conduct

Top News | Staff Reporter and AP 27 Mar 2019

Disgraced former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping says he will return to Hong Kong by the middle of next year, according to a close friend.

Dennis Lam Shun-chiu, an eye specialist who considered Ho his teacher, said Ho sent him a message after he was jailed for three years and fined US$400,000 (HK$3.14 million) yesterday for bribing the presidents of two African countries.

As he had been remanded for 16 months, the 69-year-old Ho is expected to stay another 20 months in jail, meaning he would be released by November next year.

However, from what Ho told his friends, he believes he will be deported in mid-2020 after deductions for good conduct.

Lam, who had contacted Ho's lawyer to draft a letter of mitigation for him, said Ho thanked his friends for supporting him.

Lau Siu-kai, vice chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, who also wrote a mitigation letter for Ho, said the sentence is light as Ho does not have to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Handing down the sentence, US District Judge Loretta Preska said bribes paid to the presidents of Chad and Uganda were serious crimes but Ho's kindness - including playing the violin for fellow inmates - was extraordinary.

She said acts of charity were common for those who had achieved Ho's wealth, but he went "above and beyond" by restoring sight for strangers, bringing music to the Metropolitan Correction Center and tutoring inmates who then finished high school. "It is indeed extraordinary," Preska said.

She cited mitigation letters saying Ho had made secret donations and believed he is a kind and gentle man. She also said Ho taught inmates how to write resumes and prepare for job interviews and praised him for changing the lives of many people.

Preska said sentencing guidelines suggested 21 years of imprisonment for Ho but she reckoned it would be too heavy for Ho's offenses. She said his bribery acts were only a small part of his life that cannot represent his entire life and Ho can still contribute a lot to society after he is released.

"People say that 70 is old. Take it from me that it is not. You have a lot to offer. You have a lot yet to do," she said.

Ho was convicted in December of paying bribes to the presidents of Chad and Uganda in a scheme to secure oil rights for energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy. Lawyers for Ho insisted the payments were legitimate charitable donations, including US$2 million in gift boxes delivered to Chad's president in 2014, but the defense was in vain.

Prosecutors had recommended Ho serve five years. Defense lawyers said his 16 months behind bars as a model inmate was enough.

In mitigation, Ho spoke in court for the first time.

"The actions that have caused this suffering and brought me to this courtroom today were mine and mine alone," he said as he choked up several times. "I accept full responsibility for them and I am deeply sorry."

He said he was grateful to guards and inmates at the prison for keeping him safe. Ho made a full bow before the judge to show his "gratitude and appreciation."

Ho's lawyer, Edward Kim, said he and Ho are considering options for appeal.

The prosecution released a statement after the trial and condemned Ho for his offenses.

"It undermines the fairness of international markets, erodes the public's faith in its leaders, and is deeply unfair to the people and businesses that play by the rules," it said.

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