Former Hong Kong (HK) Home Affairs Minister Patrick Ho is being detained in New York City on charges of allegedly bribing officials in Africa.
The former HK official was apparently receiving financial support for his legal fees from an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm. Ho was arrested last November in New York City.
Ho, who also runs the think tank China Energy Fund Committee (USA) Inc., which was funded by the unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm, was also accused of accepting financial support from the firm for at least part of his legal fees.
According to documents filed with the Southern District Court in New York, Ho believes he is a pawn being used to discredit China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the 21st century Maritime Silk Road.
Ho is being accused of offering US$2.9 million (HK$22.8 million) in bribes to government officials in Africa. The bribes were allegedly meant to ensure that an unnamed Shanghai-based energy firm received oil rights in Uganda and Chad.
He apparently repeatedly brought up the oil company’s interests during his meeting with the Chadian president, who asked for funding to build roads and power stations. In a federal court in January, Ho pleaded not guilty.
During Ho’s 3rd bail application, his lawyer claimed the money given to the African officials was meant to advance humanitarian goals and reflected Ho’s charitable intent.
Ho calls home
The ex-HK minister apparently sought help from Beijing to fight the bribery charges. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded a phone call between Ho and his friend on December 10, in which Ho asked for help from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
According to the disclosed content of the court documents, Ho told Beijing he was being used to get to the “big tiger.” However, according to the phone-call translation summary, submitted to the court, Ho didn’t go into detail about what he meant by the big tiger.
The merit question
A chain of emails revealed the HK ex-minister’s close ties with the Shanghai-based energy firm. According to the latest court submissions, Ho’s accusation that he was being used to get the big tiger and discredit the belt and road project was rejected by the prosecution as meritless.
The court document also stated that Ho might possibly call for support from the Hong Kong government, at least in regard to backing him in his accusations against the charges, which hold the view that his charges are a conspiracy against him and the so-called 21st-century Maritime Silk Road Project, referring to China’s plan to revive and develop trade routes between Asia and the rest of the world.
“But the fact that Ho appears repeatedly to have promoted this meritless view should give this court great pause before assuming that he and his well-connected supporters would not press the Hong Kong government — of which Ho is a former senior member — to take the same meritless view,” the court documents stated.
In a court submission, a letter from December 2014 showed that Zang wrote to Chadian President Idriss Débey, saying the company (CEFC China Energy) would give him US$2 million for his social actions helping vulnerable groups. The donation is cause for much suspicion, as the CEFC China Energy funded Ho’s think tank, China Energy Fund Committee (USA) Inc.
Bail or jail?
Before rejecting Ho’s most recent bail application, the prosecution also rejected his previous two. The court apparently was not inclined to accept Ho’s bargain to add two more properties in HK as surety. Since the properties allegedly belong to his mother and brother, the court regarded his bargain as meaningless and an invention. The case is still ongoing and has yet to be concluded.