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Wednesday, Sep 23, 2020

Jailed former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho acted as go-between for former UNGA chief to meet Xi Jinping, according to documents filed for his appeal

Former home affairs secretary was jailed in New York for three years in March after being found guilty of offering US$2.9 million in bribes to Kutesa and two others. Ho tried to set up meeting between Ugandan Sam Kutesa and Xi, though Kutesa did not ultimately meet the Chinese president on visit to Beijing.

Disgraced former Hong Kong minister Patrick Ho Chi-ping acted as go-between for a former chief of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to meet President Xi Jinping in 2015, according to documents filed to a US appeal court.

The private exchanges between Ho and Sam Kutesa, the current foreign minister of Uganda, who chaired the global body from 2014 to 2015, was revealed in Ho’s appeal application on Thursday to overturn his conviction in a multimillion-dollar bribery case involving top officials in Chad and Uganda.

The revelation showed the efforts of Ho, 69, and his think tank China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) to build networks at the UN, and advance China’s geopolitical strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative.

Ho, the former home affairs secretary, was jailed for three years by a New York federal court in March, after being found guilty of offering a total of US$2.9 million (HK$22.7 million) in bribes to Kutesa, Chadian President Idriss Déby and Senegalese diplomat Cheikh Gadio.

He is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in the New York and could be released as early as June next year.

In the Uganda case, Ho was found to have arranged a US$500,000 donation from the CEFC to the re-election campaign of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – Kutesa’s brother-in-law. He was also accused of discussing energy development projects in Uganda through Kutesa’s wife Edith, although no deals were reached.

A month after Kutesa assumed the presidency of the UNGA in September 2014, Ho met the veteran diplomat and his son Isaac at the UN in New York for nearly three hours.

According to Ho’s report to Ye Jianming – the head of oil conglomerate CEFC China Energy, which funded the think tank – in November 2014, Ho lobbied Kutesa to visit China and meet with Xi in January 2015, and to stay an extra day to meet with Ye either in Shanghai or Hong Kong.

Kutesa was said to have “concurred”.

“We, China Energy Fund Committee, are willing to provide support and assistance in the selection of programmes and topics by the United Nations,” Ho told Kutesa.

“In return, [CEFC] hopes [the UN] would give more consideration to the China factor and more voices to China when formulating programmes.”

Ho also pledged to financially assist Kutesa’s son in establishing a scholarship that would “send selected outstanding young Africans to study at elite universities in China”.

Kutesa thanked the Chinese government for “supporting and affirming” his election campaign during the meeting.

Another report Ho made to Ye in December 2014 revealed a previous attempt by Kutesa to visit China via diplomatic channels received no response.

“[Kutesa] hopes that, through the intermediary of the China Energy Fund Committee, his urgent desire can be conveyed to relevant Beijing officials,” Ho wrote at the time.

Kutesa eventually made his trip to Beijing in August 2015. While he did not meet Xi, he met then vice-president Li Yuanchao, State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

During the meeting, according to a UN press statement, Kutesa congratulated China for its support for the work in the UN and commended the country’s “remarkable economic development”.

The documents also showed that Kutesa invited Ye to be special adviser to the UNGA president, while the UN had also 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.

Kutesa has also since established a close friendship with Ho. In March 2015, Kutesa invited Ho to his residence in New York to meet with national leaders and top diplomats.

He added that Kutesa also told guests at the party, including former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and several heads of state, that CEFC had been a model global non-government organisation over the previous few years with an “excellent performance” at the United Nations.

Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and one of its senior officials, Arthur Kaferro, who also served as the chief of staff to Kutesa during his presidency of the UNGA, did not respond to a Post inquiry.

Ho is now fighting to clear his name in the US Court of Appeals for the second circuit, although legal experts have previously warned it could be an uphill battle for the former official.

In the latest 56-page application filed to the appeal court, which came with 903 pages of transcripts and appendices, Ho’s lawyers argued the prosecution case was “legally insufficient” and asked the court to drop his conviction.

The defence said the prosecution’s interpretation of US bribery and anti-money-laundering laws was wrong, and that Ho was not proven to be a US resident nor an officer of a US entity, and the money involved was only transferred between banks in the US.

The defence is also asking the court to quash the charges, arguing that the testimony of key witness Gadio was only hearsay and inadmissible. “The only testimony of a cash payment came from Gadio, but Gadio never saw the cash; he was told of it by Déby, who may have never seen it himself,” it said in the submission to the court.

The lawyers also argued Ho himself was well aware of the US$2 million payment to Déby, but he has always thought the payment was “a legitimate donation to generate goodwill for CEFC”.

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