Bribery trial starts for ex-HK minister

Local | Associated Press 27 Nov 2018

The New York trial of former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping - charged in a United Nations-linked bribery conspiracy - is set to begin with jury selection on Monday.

The trial begins a year after Ho, who ran think tank China Energy Fund Committee, was arrested on charges accusing him of paying bribes so a Chinese energy conglomerate could secure business advantages. He has been held without bail.

Ho insisted he is not guilty of conspiring to bribe the president of Chad and the Ugandan foreign minister.

Prosecutors say Ho's former co-defendant, Cheikh Gadio, will testify that Ho arranged a US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) bribe to be delivered to Chad's president in gift boxes.

Last week, US District Judge Loretta A. Preska overruled defense objections, saying Gadio can testify he understood Ho's US$2 million cash payment to President Idriss Deby to be a "bribe."

Ho's lawyers argued Gadio's testimony labeling the amount as a "bribe" as lay opinion and should be kept out of evidence.

Preska said she agreed with arguments by prosecutors that it would be difficult for Gadio to convey his understanding to the jury about the payment without using the word "bribe."

The judge said she will also let prosecutors show jurors evidence Ho would only contribute money to a former UN official if the official agreed to take actions benefiting the energy conglomerate, as well as evidence of Ho brokering Iranian transactions and arms transactions.

She said she'll ban other evidence though, including arguments about the merits of projects Ho sought to advance through bribery or good causes toward which the bribed officials could have used the payments.

Preska also noted that defense lawyers said they will not try to argue the US brought the case against Ho as part of a broader campaign against China or that the timing of the prosecution was part of a broader political agenda.

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