Caixin
Mar 26, 2019 08:00 PM
FINANCE

Hong Kong Ex-Official Sent to Prison in U.S. for Bribery Linked to Embattled Firm CEFC

Patrick Ho, the former head of a CEFC-funded non-governmental organization. Photo: IC
Patrick Ho, the former head of a CEFC-funded non-governmental organization. Photo: IC

A former Hong Kong official has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined $400,000 for bribing African officials on behalf of a major Chinese energy conglomerate, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

Patrick Ho, the former head of the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau, on Monday was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for paying millions of dollars in bribes to top officials in Chad and Uganda, the statement said.

Ho made the bribes in exchange for business favors for CEFC China Energy Co. Ltd. while using a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) to hide his criminal intentions.

Ho, a 69-year-old born in Hong Kong, was convicted in December of violating of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as well as on charges of money laundering and conspiracy. The former ophthalmologist was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in November 2017.

Ho’s crimes are another blow to the embattled CEFC, which has had a turbulent time since its founder and former chairman Ye Jianming was placed under investigation and then stepped down last year. Since then, CEFC has missed payments on nearly 2.1 billion yuan ($329 million) in bonds, and has seen its deal to take a $9.1 billion stake in Russian oil major Rosneft fall apart, forcing the Chinese company to pay $257 million in compensation to the would-be sellers.

Ho was found guilty on seven of eight counts after a one-week jury trial in New York that ended in December. Five of the charges against Ho were violations of the U.S.’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits paying foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. Since 1998, the law has also been applied to foreign firms and individuals who further the act of bribery within the U.S. or through the U.S. financial system.

Ho said in court that he felt great remorse that his actions have put a burden on his family, and he was sorry that he couldn’t be with his wife when his mother-in-law passed away several months ago, according to a report by HK01, a news outlet based in Hong Kong. Ho also said that he was thankful that the Metropolitan Correction Center, where he had been detained, had given him a violin to play at the center’s Christmas celebration.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who sentenced Ho, said that she took into account his charitable history, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Preska said that Ho helped tutor inmates and brought music to the correction center — actions that were “indeed extraordinary,” the AP quoted Preska as saying.

According to the Justice Department statement, Ho in 2014 used his contacts at the United Nations to meet Ugandan officials and former Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Gadio, who was close to the president of Chad. At the time, Ho was heading up the China Energy Fund Committee, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) fully funded by CEFC.

Through Gadio, Ho later offered Chadian President Idriss Déby a $2 million bribe hidden in gift boxes in exchange for helping CEFC secure oil exploration rights in Chad, the statement said, citing evidence presented at the trial.

In May 2016, Ho used the CEFC-funded NGO to wire $500,000 to the Ugandan foreign minister through banks in New York. According to the Justice Department statement, Ho also schemed to bribe Uganda’s president and offered to provide two Ugandan officials with “additional corrupt benefits by ‘partnering’ with them in future joint ventures in Uganda.”

Ho has been detained for 16 months since his arrest in 2017. He is expected to be released from prison in 2020.

Contact reporter Timmy Shen (hongmingshen@caixin.com)

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