International review Investigation

US charges ex-HK official with Africa corruption

Source: South China Morning Post.

This material belongs to: Financial Times.

Patrick Ho Chi-ping allegedly bribed officials in Chad and Uganda for Chinese group.

A former Hong Kong government official has been arrested in the US on charges of participating in a “multiyear, multimillion-dollar scheme” to bribe top officials in Chad and Uganda on behalf of a Chinese energy conglomerate.

Patrick Ho Chi-ping, former home secretary of Hong Kong and head of a non-governmental organisation funded by the Chinese conglomerate CEFC China Energy, has been charged with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering and conspiracy to commit both, according to the US Attorney’s Office for Manhattan.

Cheikh Gadio, a former foreign minister of Senegal, was also arrested on the same charges.

“In an international corruption scheme that spanned the globe, Chi Ping Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio allegedly conspired to bribe African government officials on behalf of a Chinese energy conglomerate,” said Joon H Kim, acting US attorney in Manhattan. “Wiring almost $1m through New York’s banking system in furtherance of their corrupt schemes, the defendants allegedly sought to generate business through bribes paid to the president of Chad and the Ugandan foreign minister.”

The justice department’s formal complaint details how the alleged bribes were used to peddle Chinese investment in Africa.

CEFC is not named, but the US complaint quotes directly from its website, stating the company in question is a Shanghai-based “private collective enterprise with energy and financial services as its core business”.

CEFC did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, CEFC grabbed global attention when it paid $8bn for a 14.2 per cent stake in Russia’s state-owned oil group Rosneft.

In just three years, the company, which has links to Chinese military intelligence officers, has made more than a dozen investments across the former Soviet Union.

The statement from US authorities described two schemes, the first of which allegedly saw Mr Gadio assist Mr Ho in causing the conglomerate to offer a $2m bribe — characterised as a “donation” for charitable causes — to Idriss Déby, the president of Chad.

In exchange, Mr Déby provided the company with the exclusive opportunity to obtain certain oil rights in Chad without facing international competition, the statement alleges.

In the second scheme, Mr Ho is alleged to have caused a $500,000 bribe to be paid to the account of Uganda’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa.

He also allegedly provided Ugandan politicians with gifts and promises of future benefits, including a share in the profits of a potential joint venture between the energy conglomerate and businesses owned by the families of Ugandan officials.

In his discussions with Ugandan officials, Mr Ho asks for a “list of projects which the president wishes China to invest in”. He then goes on to describe a number of deals in the Czech Republic worth $1.8bn that the Chinese energy company had recently invested in. These included a football club, a historic building, a television and radio station and a beer manufacturer.

“[W]e wish to engage Uganda as our first stop in Africa”, the complaint quotes Mr Ho as saying.

Mr Ho was arrested on Saturday afternoon, while Mr Gadio was arrested on Friday, according to the statement. Mr Ho served as Hong Kong home secretary from 2002-2007.

Neither of the two men arrested, nor Mr Déby nor Mr Kutesa could be immediately reached for comment.

The complaint also notes that an NGO Mr Ho worked for held “Special Consultative Status” with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The China Energy Fund Committee, a Hong Kong-based charitable NGO, says on its website it has this consultative status and that it is funded entirely by CEFC China Energy. The company also calls the NGO a “global think-tank fully sponsored by CEFC China”.