Arguments in UN-linked business bribery trial draw to close
NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. prosecutor told a jury Tuesday that a “cheating” Hong Kong businessman undermined faith in the international market by lining the pockets of two African presidents to secure oil rights for a Chinese energy conglomerate.
But a defense attorney for Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho called the prosecution “deeply flawed” and assailed the credibility of a Senegalese diplomat who had been indicted alongside Ho before agreeing to testify for the government.
Ho has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a bribery case that cast a harsh light on several former United Nations officials.
“There’s something rotten about Cheikh Gadio, the man who lied from that witness stand so that he could get a free pass,” the defense attorney, Edward Kim, said in his closing argument, referring to the former foreign minister of Senegal and a critical government witness.
Gadio told jurors last week that Ho and his colleagues at CEFC China Energy paid a $2 million bribe to the president of Chad amid oil talks in 2014. He said the cash was secreted in gift boxes and that President Idriss Deby angrily rejected the money and ordered it removed from his compound.
Kim acknowledged the cash payment as well as others made to the president and foreign minister of Uganda. But he insisted the transactions were documented, charitable donations, and that Ho “made no attempt to hide what he was doing.”
Kim told jurors it was Gadio who initially suggested the payment to Chadian leaders, pointing to an email in which Gadio suggested the energy company provide Deby with “secret or very confidential financial assistance” for his political campaigns.
“This was a man who thought politics was a for-profit business,” Kim said, telling jurors that Gadio himself has accepted bribes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind painted an entirely different picture of Ho during the seven-day trial, portraying him as a shrewd and calculating operator who had grown accustomed to throwing money at foreign officials to expand the portfolio of CEFC China Energy around the world.
He pointed to a recorded telephone call in which Ho could be heard discussing a “major contribution” to the late John Ashe, an Antiguan diplomat and former president of the United Nations General Assembly. Ho could be heard describing a practice of “give and take” he expected when making such contributions.
“It’s classic, like something out of a movie,” Zolkind said of Ho’s tactics. “This is not how legitimate business is done.”
Other United Nations ties to the case include the involvement of Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, who also served as president of the U.N. General Assembly when Ho first sought him out. Ho is accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Kutesa and his brother-in-law, longtime Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Jurors also heard testimony from another former president of the U.N. General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, a longtime diplomat and former foreign minister to Serbia. Ho befriended Jeremic during his tenure at the United Nations and later secured a consulting job for him at CEFC China Energy.
Jeremic told The Associated Press following his testimony last week that he never witnessed Ho do anything improper.