(CNN) -It sounds like a Hollywood movie. A respected Hong Kong financial magnate allegedly plans a clandestine meeting with the president of Chad in the middle of the dusty Sahara Desert, and offers him a $2 million gift to secure oil rights for a Chinese conglomerate.
In another scheme, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, according to United States prosecutors, sends the now foreign minister of Uganda, who was then the president of the UN General Assembly, a $500,000 bribe for business advantages, through the New York banking system.
All this was allegedly planned under the noses of the world’s top diplomats in the corridors of the United Nations in New York, where Ho ran an energy NGO.
In November 2017, Ho and Cheikh Gadio — the Senegalese failed presidential candidate and former foreign minister, who allegedly arranged the deals — were arrested in New York on multiple bribery and money laundering charges. This week, the trial date was set for November 5, 2018. Aged 68 years old and in ailing health, Ho risks spending his remaining years behind bars. He has pleaded not guilty.
On December 18, 2017, the US government issued its indictment of Patrick Ho. Although he had been named on the complaint one month earlier, Gadio — who has lived legally in America since 2000 — was curiously no longer listed as a co-defendant. He remained under house arrest when CNN published this article.
There are parts of the complaint prosecutors might ask Ho or Gadio to elaborate on. In one section, for example, Gadio allegedly wrote that Deby had spoken to him about his government’s deal with CNPC, and “exposed me the real package.” Ho several times allegedly wrote that he needed to speak with “SH” — which the FBI has taken to stand for Shanghai — before making a decision.
Today, Ho sits in a high-rise Manhattan jail cell preparing for trial. His bail application to be released on a $10 million bond was rejected, as was his request to be put under house arrest with electronic tagging.
“His incentive to flee is massive,” assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal told the judge. “His ability to flee is massive.”
In the end, according to the complaint, CEFC did not pursue the oil field that the alleged $2 million bribe gave it access to. Instead, according to court documents, it paid $110 million to a Taiwan oil company for a 35% share of its oil rights in Chad.
This case, however, is about more than one man’s spectacular fall from grace. It offers a rare window into Chinese corruption in Africa — something academics, politicians and business people have long suspected existed but found difficult to prove.
What’s more, with the mountain of evidence seemingly against the defendant, legal experts are wondering whether Ho might be asked to expose other corrupt parties to reduce his sentence.
Western companies in Africa have “long spoken of the competitive advantage Chinese companies have on the continent,” says Andrew Spalding, a professor at the University of Richmond and expert in anti-corruption law. “And the dramatic increase in China’s commercial presence tends to confirm it.”
China’s goods trade alone with Africa totaled $188 billion in 2015, compared with $53 billion for the US. As China has become the continent’s biggest economic partner, Chinese companies have found themselves operating in countries with high corruption ratings without domestic legislation to answer to. Thirteen Sub-Saharan African nations ranked in the bottom 30 of the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.
American and British companies have been living with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act for years. Although China formally adopted a foreign bribery law to comply with the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2011, it has done “next to nothing to enforce it,” says Spalding.
Chinese president Xi Jinping’s high-profile corruption crackdown at home virtually ignores foreign bribery, according to some observers. “For centuries, bribery has not even been considered a bad thing in China,” says Precht. “But as China becomes a partner in the world community, these issues are going to become more important.”
Before he became President of the United States, Donald Trump had slammed the FCPA for turning America into “the policeman for the world.” A foreigner in a different country who merely sends an email relating to corrupt practices through a US server can be prosecuted under the act. “Let them clean up their own act, we shouldn’t be cleaning up their act for them,” he told CNBC in 2012.
The prosecution of Ho, among others, seems to signal a change of heart for the president.
In November 2017, the US Department of Justice formalized a new anti-corruption policy prioritizing bringing cases against individuals rather than corporations. Heavy fines against companies, it said, only penalized shareholders.
If the emails and reports obtained by the FBI and presented in a court affidavit are to believed, Ho and Gadio took remarkably few steps to cover their tracks. The pair documented their alleged plan so clearly it reads like a how to guide for bribing an African official.
The Environmental Investigation Agency claimed that in 2013, 76% of all global timber exports from Mozambique were illegally cut in excess of reported harvests — and the vast majority of them went to China. The Mozambique government did not reply to a CNN email asking how it was combating this problem.
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