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Ex-Hong Kong minister found guilty of bribing Kutesa, African leaders

CORRUPTION | A former Hong Kong minister has been found guilty by a federal jury in New York of offering millions of dollars in bribes to African officials, including Uganda’s foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa.

Patrick Ho Chi-ping, 69, now faces jail time after being convicted Wednesday by a Southern District of New York jury.

Arrested by US authorities in November 2017, Ho was found guilty on seven of eight counts of bribery and money laundering.

Prosecutors alleged that he was involved in $2.9 million worth of bribes given to a state leader and officials of Chad and Uganda, in exchange for securing oil rights and development opportunities for Chinese conglomerate CEFC China Energy in the two African countries.

Ho was acquitted of the Chad money-laundering charge.

Asked about the jury’s decision, Ho said: “Expected. It’s like that.”

Ho will be sentenced on March 14. The maximum penalty for each count ranges from five to 20 years’ imprisonment, though he could be sentenced to concurrent terms.

Selling the belt and road

Ho was Hong Kong’s home affairs minister from 2002 to 2007. He later became the deputy secretary general of a think tank financed by CEFC, a private company with significant state ties.

Since then, he has been an advocate for the “Belt and Road Initiative,” China’s flagship global infrastructure and trade program.

The initiative provides billions in infrastructure funding to developing nations across the world, particularly in the Pacific and Africa.

But its critics, the US prime among them, say that the initiative traps nations in debt, leaving them beholden to Chinese money.

Allegations of bribery have been long suspected but rarely proven.

On day two of Ho’s trial last month, jurors were shown Kutesa’s photos on a courtroom projector. Testifying was Vuk Jeremic, former Foreign Minister of Serbia and a former President of the United Nations General Assembly (PGA). He served in 2012 and was was succeeded by the late John Ashe; Kutesa assumed the post after Ashe.

The US alleges that Kutesa’s $500,000 was wired from a New York-based bank to an account in Uganda for a fake charity, adding money laundering to the bribe charges against Ho, who is also understood to have given a gift to President Museveni during his 2016 swearing in ceremony.

Ho allegedly paid the bribes to illegally secure lucrative rights in the oil industry in Chad on behalf of giant energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co., a private Shanghai-based company.

In addition to oil and infrastructure, CEFC was to build a tourism theme park near Lake Victoria on land allocated by Museveni and to acquire Crane Bank.

At home, there was some noise from across the board and Parliament with calls for Kutesa to resign amid the bribery scandal but the chorus died down within a few months.

Agencies

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