Chinese Energy Company Traded Weapons in Africa, Middle East

US attorneys produced documents showing Shanghai-based CEFC skirted embargoes, supplied arms to dictators
October 15, 2018 Updated: October 15, 2018

Attorneys from the Southern District of New York have submitted documents showing that Patrick Ho Chi-ping, a Hong Kong representative of China’s CEFC who was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2017, skirted sanctions by selling weapons to buyers in Libya, South Sudan, Qatar, and other countries.

On Oct. 2, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, three assistant attorneys, the acting chief of Fraud Section Criminal Division, and a trial attorney submitted a 32-page document with evidence of Ho’s activities to the district court. Ho is a Hong Kong businessman, ophthalmologist, former secretary for home affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The attorneys uncovered a large number of emails and audio records showing that Ho, who is to go on trial for bribery and money laundering next month, had done business with Iran on behalf of CEFC China Energy, a Shanghai-based firm. 

Ho’s relationship to CEFC China goes back to 2010, when the energy company established and funded an international lobbying firm in Hong Kong called the China Energy Fund Committee. Ho was made secretary-general of the firm, and also headed a Virginia-based CEFC non-governmental organization.

CEFC is a private conglomerate that does business in the typically state-dominated fields of oil and gas and financial services. Its founder, Ye Jianming, has been detained for investigation since February 2018. In March, Chinese state-affiliated media Caixin reported that CEFC was linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Iran Deals

Due to the Iranian regime’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Teheran is subject to sanctions by the United States and other countries.

In October 2014, Ho emailed an assistant saying that he was going to Beijing to visit the CEFC chairman for business related to Iran. He wrote about how the Iranian government had funds stored in a Chinese bank and wished to buy precious metals, but couldn’t do so due to sanctions.

“The Iranian agent is looking for a Chinese company to act as a middleman in these transactions and will pay commission,” Ho wrote. “[They] have a strong urge to establish a relationship with us regarding oil and other products.”

A subsequent email from 2015 showed the development of Ho’s relationship with Iranian clients. It contained an attached PowerPoint document called “Presentation to Potential Partners Iran Petroleum Investments,” and a message sent the following year contained details of a meeting between CEFC executives and an oil firm with operations in Iran.

Arms Sales and Bribery

Ho set up various deals to sell Chinese weaponry in countries across Africa and the Middle East, often in violation of sanctions, the U.S. attorneys say based on testimony and email evidence.  

In an email from March 2015, Ho discussed selling weapons to Libya and South Sudan, whose governments are forbidden by international agreement to buy foreign armaments.

Ho asked the other party, “Find a way to pass them onto me and we can execute that right away.”

Then the other party answered: “Attached. [We] have the funding and processing mechanisms in place. If it works nice, there will be much more. Also for S. Sudan.”

South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war since 2013 that has killed more than 380,000 people.

In the attached document of the email, there’s a list, which has “numerous arms,” and an “End User Certification” shows that the receiver of the arms is the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Libya. Since the end of the Gaddafi regime in 2014, the Second Libyan Civil War has killed more than 10,000 people and created more than 700,000 refugees.

In April 2015, the other person contacted Ho again and wrote in the email: “It so turns out Qatar also needs urgently a list of toys (arms) from us. But for the same reason we had for Libya, we cannot sell directly to them.”

Ho answered: “Qatar good chance bc (because) there is no embargo. Libya is another case bc going against an embargo is tricky.

“Qatar needs new toys (weapons) quite urgently. Their chief is coming to China and we hope to give them a piece of good news. Please confirm soonest.”

The U.S. legal evidence said that Ho sold the arms on behalf of CEFC in order to gain advantages in petroleum deals and other business in these countries.