Disgraced former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping was released from a New York prison on Monday, after serving a jail term over a multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe top African leaders.
The 70-year-old, who was jailed for 36 months and fined US$400,000 last year, was also expected to be deported because his passport had expired.
The former secretary for home affairs – who claimed he was “the first of the sacrificial lambs” caught up in the US-China trade war – was given credit for the 16 months he had spent behind bars before his conviction.
His legal team said earlier that Ho could get a further reduction of five months for good behaviour and be out in June.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that Ho was no longer in their custody. It was not immediately clear if Ho has been deported.
Ho was home affairs chief from 2002 to 2007. He was arrested at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York in November 2017. He became the deputy secretary general of a think tank funded by the Shanghai-based oil conglomerate CEFC China Energy following his stint in the Hong Kong government.
In December 2018, a federal jury found him guilty on seven of eight counts of bribery and money laundering over oil rights for CEFC in Chad and Uganda.
Ho was found to have offered US$2.9 million in bribes to Chadian President Idriss Déby, Senegalese diplomat Cheikh Gadio and Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa.
During the trial, defendant-turned-witness Gadio, the middleman in talks on oil rights between CEFC and Déby, testified that Ho offered US$2 million wrapped in gift boxes to the president during a visit to Chad in December 2014.
Ho remained defiant in the face of the charges. Shortly after his arrest, he said he was being used to “get to the big tiger”, and asked a friend to seek help from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee.
After being found guilty, he said he was “the first of the sacrificial lambs of such hostility”.
Apart from China’s strategic expansion into Africa through private companies such as CEFC, the case also raised eyebrows over UN governance, with three officials linked.
Two former UN General Assembly presidents were suspected to have received bribes in the case. One has since died after being sued while the other was never prosecuted.
Vuk Jeremic, another former General Assembly president, testified at Ho’s trial, saying that after his UN term, he received funding from CEFC to set up a think tank.
Ho filed an appeal last year against his conviction, saying the prosecution had presented a “legally insufficient” case. The US Court of Appeals has yet to hand down its ruling.
The appeal document showed that Ho used CEFC to build networks at the UN to advance China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global trade strategy.
He apparently told Kutesa, shortly after the Ugandan assumed the General Assembly presidency, that CEFC could provide support to the United Nations in exchange for the UN giving more consideration to China’s voice when the body formulated its programmes, according to a report cited.
He also lobbied for Kutesa to visit China to meet President Xi Jinping in 2015. Kutesa went to Beijing in August 2015, but met then-Vice-President Li Yuanchao, state councillor Yang Jiechi and foreign minister Wang Yi, instead of Xi.
The documents also showed that Kutesa invited the head of CEFC China Energy to be special adviser to the General Assembly president, while the UN included one activity by CEFC on the Belt and Road Initiative in a high-profile forum series, and co-hosted another with CEFC on global development.
The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.