Ho denies leading bribery scheme

Top News | Phoebe Ng 10 Jan 2018

Former Hong Kong home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping pleaded not guilty to charges that he took part in a scam to bribe officials in Chad and Uganda in exchange for contracts for a Chinese energy company.

Appearing in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, New York, the 68-year-old Ho was accused of spearheading a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme between 2014 and 2017, where he allegedly helped the Chinese energy firm gain exclusive oil rights in Africa.

During his arraignment, Ho denied all eight charges - five relating to bribery in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and three involving money laundering.

"Not guilty, judge," he said.

Despite making a second bail request on Friday, district judge Katherine Forrest entertained the defense's requests during the proceedings.

The defense offered US$10 million (HK$78 million) in writing: "At arraignment, we intend to respectfully request that Dr Ho be released from pretrial detention on strict conditions."

However, Forrest said it was too early for the matter to be dealt with and then proceeded to adjourn the case until February 2.

She also warned that the trial - which will likely last more than four weeks - may not begin until January 2019.

The prosecution has collected tens of thousands of pieces of evidence, including Ho's mobile phone, computer, bank statements, travel record and at least 10 e-mail correspondences.

Assistant US attorney Douglas Zolkind said the discovery would be voluminous.

Forrest ordered the prosecution to submit all evidence to the defense by March.

According to the indictment, Ho wired nearly US$1 million through the New York banking system. Some deals were even allegedly sealed in the United Nations, making the case fall within US jurisdiction.

"Ho agreed to pay and offer money and other things of value to officials in Africa, including the president of Chad, the minister of foreign affairs of Uganda and the president of Uganda, to obtain business for a Shanghai-based energy conglomerate," the 18-page document read. If convicted, Ho could be jailed up to 20 years.

The firm, though not identified, is believed to be CEFC China Energy, a rising star in the energy industry.

Ho remains behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center opposite the court buildings. He was denied bail by magistrate Debra Freeman on December 1 as she believed he had "reasons that would give him means to flee."

A complaint was first made on November 16 and Ho was arrested four days later, along with Cheikh Gadio, the former foreign minister of Senegal.

The indictment said Gadio advised Ho to "reward" the president of Chad with a "nice financial package" in November 2014.

In just two months, Ho pledged US$2 million to be extended by the energy company to Chad's president.

In the following year, Ho wired two payments of US$200,000 from Hong Kong, through New York, to a Dubai account allegedly designated by Gadio.

In 2016, Ho remitted US$500,000 in a similar manner to an account supposedly designated by a Ugandan foreign minister.

Both Chad president Idriss Deby and Ugandan foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa have strongly denied the allegations.

Court records show that Ho is represented by lawyers Edward Young Kyu Kim and Paul Krieger, experts in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Ho's arrest comes as Russia's state-run oil group Rosneft is about to supply CEFC China Energy with almost 61 million tonnes of oil over the next five years.

His wife Sibelle Hu Huizhong quoted the Global Times, which reported a CEFC executive saying the arrest may "have a significant impact on Sino-Russian strategic relations and energy cooperation."

Regarding the potentially long custodial period - at least 14 months - Ho has to wait before trial, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, SC, said it showed the court may be leaning toward not granting him a bail.

"I understand if the court does not have time to deal with Ho's application yet," Tong said. "However, his lawyers are entitled to appeal."

Albert Luk Wai-hung, another barrister, said defense should be more proactive in getting Ho's request heard.

phoebe.ng@singtaonewscorp.com

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