Former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping offered the president of Chad a gift box containing US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) in cash around December 2014, US prosecutors have alleged.
The accusations by co-defendant turned witness Cheikh Gadio, a former foreign minister of Senegal and an international consultant, were conveyed in a letter from US Department of Justice prosecutor Geoffrey Berman to Ho’s defence team in May.
The letter was disclosed on Monday when Ho’s lawyers made a fifth bail application to court, arguing the recent dismissal of the charges against Gadio undermined the case against Ho and therefore the previous denials of bail.
Less than two weeks ago, the US court granted the prosecutors’ request to dismiss all charges against Gadio, whom the Post understands agreed to testify as a witness in return.
Ho, Hong Kong’s home affairs minister from 2002 to 2007, has been behind bars since last November, charged on eight counts: three of money laundering and five of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is accused of offering US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) worth of bribes to government officials to advance oil and development rights in Uganda and Chad for the Shanghai-based CEFC China Energy.
Ho was working at the time of his arrest for the China Energy Fund Committee, a Hong Kong research group that receives funds from CEFC.
The accounts to which the money was sent were designated to Gadio and Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa. US authorities said Ho met Gadio at the UN in 2014 and later paid him US$400,000 for his influence over Chad’s president, Idriss Deby.
In Berman’s letter, Gadio distanced himself from the act of offering cash, saying he “had no advance knowledge” of the payment and did not advise Ho to pay it.
“Ho and certain energy company executives provided the [US]$2 million in cash, concealed within a gift box, to the president of Chad in connection with a business meeting in Chad in or about December 2014,” read the letter, which did not name the company.
It said that after Deby said he would not accept the money personally, Ho and the company’s executives responded that it had been intended as “a donation to Chad”. A letter to the president was later drafted by Ho and his colleagues under Gadio’s assistance, purporting to make a US$2 million “charitable donation to Chad”, the letter said.
Though Gadio said he believed the cash was offered for Ho and the company’s “interest in doing business in Chad”, he claimed to have only learned about the payment shortly after the president opened the gift box.
Gadio also denied advising or agreeing with Ho to offer the cash for Deby’s personal benefit, according to Berman’s letter.
But according to indictment documents released earlier, Gadio allegedly advised Ho to “reward him [the president of Chad] with a nice financial package as an entry ticket in the Chadian oil market and later gas market and other key business” in an email sent on November 19, 2014.
These documents also revealed Gadio amended Ho’s drafted letter to Deby, by adding the words “at your disposal” when the purported US$2 million donation to his administration was mentioned.
New York’s Federal District Court has dismissed all Ho’s previous bail applications, saying Ho could still be a flight risk considering his “powerful connections with China” and the weight of evidence presented by prosecutors.
But Ho’s lawyers argued in their latest bail application: “Now the government may have accepted at least in part an account that repudiates much of what was alleged in the complaint, seriously diminishing its case against Dr Ho in the process.”
The defence team requested Ho be released on four conditions: a US$10 million personal recognisance bond secured by US$3 million in cash and unencumbered deeds to homes from Ho and relatives; house arrest in a flat near the court; electronic monitoring; and a global waiver of extradition.
Author: Su Xinqi