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USA Sends Ex-Hong Kong Minister Patrick Ho To Jail Over Bribery and money laundering

By Norman Kay
Ex-Hong Kong Minister Patrick Ho
Ex-Hong Kong Minister Patrick Ho

Chi Ping Patrick Ho, schemed to bribe Presidents of Chad, Uganda and Foreign Minister of Uganda.

Patrick Ho, aka “Patrick C.P. Ho” and “He Zhiping,” was sentenced on 25 th March, 2019, to serve 36 months in prison for his role in a multi-year, multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe top officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages for CEFC China Energy Company Limited (“CEFC China”) Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York announced.

The ex-Hong Kong Minister Patrick Ho, who also doubles as forme head of organization backed by Chinese energy conglomerate, tendered an emotional apology on Monday in a US federal court in New York after he was slapped with a 36 months jail sentence and a US$400,000 fine over a multimillion-dollar bribery scandal involving the Chadian and Ugandan leaders, President Idriss Déby and Gen Yoweri Museveni respectively.

“I tried very hard to transform my despair into something meaningful,” Ho told US District Judge Loretta Preska. “I accept full responsibility. I am deeply sorry.”

“Please accept this token [of] respect and gratitude,” Ho said, head bowed, at the end of his remarks, which included details about the community work he did at New York's Manhattan Correctional Centre, helping other inmates by giving classes in English, resume writing and public speaking.

Ho was convicted of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), money laundering, and conspiracy to commit the same, in December 2018, after a one-week jury trial before U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, who imposed today’s sentence.

In addition to his prison term, Ho, 69, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China who resided in Hong Kong until his arrest in November 2017. He's been detained since his arrest and was fined $400,000. On completion of his prison sentence, Ho will be removed from the United States.

“Patrick Ho bribed officials at the highest levels of government in Chad and Uganda in pursuit of lucrative oil deals and other business opportunities, all while using a U.S.-based NGO to conceal his criminal scheme,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “This kind of corruption undermines world markets and tilts the playing field against law-abiding companies and individuals. The Department will continue to investigate and prosecute individuals and corporations that engage in foreign bribery. ”

“Patrick Ho schemed to bribe the leaders of Chad and Uganda in order to secure unfair business advantages for the Chinese energy company he served,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Berman. “His actions were brazen, including offering the president of Chad $2 million in cash, hidden in gift boxes. Foreign corruption 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. Today’s sentence recognizes the severe harm caused by Ho’s actions.”

According to the evidence presented at trial, Ho orchestrated and executed two bribery schemes to pay top officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages for CEFC China, a Shanghai-based multibillion-dollar conglomerate that operates internationally in multiple sectors, including oil, gas, and banking. During the course of the schemes, Ho served as the secretary-general of a non-governmental organization based in Hong Kong and Arlington, Virginia, and registered as a charitable entity in the United States, the China Energy Fund Committee (“CEFC NGO”), which held “Special Consultative Status” with the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council. CEFC NGO was funded by CEFC China.

In the first scheme (the Chad Scheme), Ho, on behalf of CEFC China, offered a $2 million cash bribe, hidden within gift boxes, to Idriss Déby, the president of Chad, in an effort to obtain valuable oil rights from the Chadian government.

In the second scheme (the Uganda Scheme), Ho caused a $500,000 bribe to be paid, via wires transmitted through New York, New York, to an account designated by Sam Kutesa, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda, who had recently completed his term as the president of the UN General Assembly. Ho also schemed to pay a $500,000 cash bribe to Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, and offered to provide both Kutesa and Museveni with additional corrupt benefits by “partnering” with them and their families in future joint ventures in Uganda.

The Chad Scheme
The Chad Scheme began in or about September 2014 when Ho flew into New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly. At that time, CEFC China – a multibillion-dollar energy company based in Shanghai, China – was working to expand its operations to Chad, and wanted to meet with President Déby as quickly as possible. Through a connection, Ho was introduced to Cheikh Gadio, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Senegal, who had a personal relationship with President Déby. Ho and Gadio met at CEFC China’s suite at Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan, where Ho enlisted Gadio to assist CEFC China in obtaining access to President Déby. Gadio connected Ho and CEFC China to President Déby.

In an initial meeting in Chad in November 2014, President Déby described to Ho and CEFC China executives certain lucrative oil rights that were available for CEFC China to acquire. Following that meeting, Gadio advised Ho and CEFC China to send a technical team to Chad to investigate the oil rights and make an offer to President Déby grounded in factual data. Instead, Ho insisted on a prompt second meeting with President Déby. The second meeting took place a few weeks later, in December 2014. Ho led a CEFC China delegation, which flew to Chad on a corporate jet with $2 million cash concealed within several gift boxes. At the conclusion of a business meeting with President Déby, Ho and the CEFC China executives presented him with the gift boxes.

To the surprise of Ho and the CEFC China executives, President Déby rejected the $2 million bribe offer, but later agreed to accept the money as a charitable donation to the country. Ho subsequently drafted a letter to President Déby falsely claiming that the cash had really been intended as a donation to the people of Chad all along.

Ho and CEFC China did not obtain the unfair advantage that they had sought through the bribe offer, and by mid-2015, Ho had turned his attention to a different so-called “gateway to Africa”: Uganda.

The Uganda Scheme
The Uganda Scheme began around the same time as the Chad Scheme, when Ho was in New York for the annual UN General Assembly. Ho met with Sam Kutesa, who had recently begun his term as the 69th president of the UN General Assembly (“PGA”). Ho, purporting to act on behalf of CEFC NGO, met with Kutesa and began to cultivate a relationship with him. During the year when Kutesa served as PGA, Ho and Kutesa discussed a “strategic partnership” between Uganda and CEFC China for various business ventures, to be formed once Kutesa returned to Uganda.

In or about February 2016 – after Kutesa had returned to Uganda and resumed his role as Foreign Minister, and Yoweri Museveni (Kutesa’s relative) had been reelected as the president of Uganda – Kutesa solicited a payment from Ho, purportedly for a charitable foundation that Kutesa wished to launch. Ho agreed to provide the requested payment, but simultaneously requested, on behalf of CEFC China, an invitation to Museveni’s inauguration, business meetings with Museveni and other high-level Ugandan officials, and a list of specific business projects in Uganda in which CEFC China could participate.

In May 2016, Ho and CEFC China executives traveled to Uganda. Prior to departing, Ho caused CEFC NGO to wire $500,000 to the account provided by Kutesa in the name of the so-called “foundation,” which wire was transmitted through New York, New York. Ho also advised his boss, Ye Jianming, the then-chairman of CEFC China, to provide $500,000 in cash to Museveni, ostensibly as a campaign donation, even though Museveni had already been reelected. Ho intended these payments to influence Kutesa and Museveni to use their official power to steer business advantages to CEFC China.

Ho and CEFC China executives attended President Museveni’s inauguration and obtained business meetings in Uganda with Museveni and top Ugandan officials, including with the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources. After the trip, Ho requested that Kutesa and Museveni assist CEFC China in acquiring a Ugandan bank, as an initial step before pursuing additional ventures in Uganda. Ho also offered to “partner” with Kutesa and Museveni and/or their “family businesses,” making clear that both officials would share in CEFC China’s future profits. In exchange for the bribes offered and paid by Ho, Kutesa thereafter steered a bank acquisition opportunity to CEFC China.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Justice, Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.

Trial Attorney Paul A. Hayden of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, FCPA Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Richenthal, Douglas S. Zolkind, and Catherine E. Ghosh of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern District of New York’s Public Corruption Unit are prosecuting the case.