Head of Chinese Energy NGO Sentenced to 3 Years in US Prison

March 26, 2019 Updated: March 27, 2019

The former head of an international non-governmental organization that was backed by a Chinese energy conglomerate, was sentenced to three years in prison on March 25 for bribery and money laundering.

Patrick Ho was the secretary-general of the China Energy Fund Committee, an NGO based in both Hong Kong and Arlington, Virginia. Ho was also a top lieutenant of Ye Jianming, a Chinese oil tycoon whose company, CEFC China Energy Company Limited, (CEFC China), made billions of dollars in Russia, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa.

The company also sought business in South Sudan and Iraq, among other distressed places, courted North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and attempted to maneuver into a middleman position with Iran to avoid oil sanctions.

CEFC China backed Ho’s registered charitable organization, which even held a “special consultative status” with the United Nations. But Ho’s activities often focused on advancing the interests of Ye’s energy giant, which included seeking favor in Washington.

Ho’s first phone call after his November 2017 arrest for allegedly bribing top officials in Chad and Uganda was to James Biden, the brother of former Vice President Joe Biden, The New York Times reported in December 2018. Ye himself had met privately with Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, in Miami in May 2017.

Ho was convicted of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act regarding Chad and Uganda in December 2018, while Ye has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the United States.

“Patrick Ho schemed to bribe the leaders of Chad and Uganda in order to secure unfair business advantages for the Chinese energy company he served,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, on March 25.

“Foreign corruption undermines the fairness of international markets, erodes the public’s faith in its leaders, and is deeply unfair to the people and businesses that play by the rules,” Berman added.

According to prosecutors, Ho orchestrated the two bribery schemes on behalf of CEFC China, which is based in Shanghai and operates internationally across multiple industries, including oil, gas, and banking. During Ho’s trial, prosecutors outlined other areas of business, including an attempt to deal arms in conflict zones.

In September 2014, Ho attended a U.N. General Assembly in New York City while CEFC China was attempting to expand its business operations into the African country of Chad. Ho, in his role as the chief officer of a charitable NGO, secured a meeting with the former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Senegal, who had a personal relationship with Chad President Idriss Déby.

Weeks later, Ho and CEFC China executives met with Déby in Chad to discuss access to lucrative oil rights in the impoverished country. A second meeting took place in Chad in December 2014 and ended with Ho presenting Déby with $2 million in cash concealed in several gift boxes, prosecutors said.

Déby rejected the offer but later accepted it as a donation to the people of Chad. Ho would later argue that the payment was indeed a donation from his charitable NGO, but a federal court jury in Manhattan found the payment constituted a bribe.

Upon his conviction, Ho told Hong Kong reporters in Cantonese, “Expected. It’s like that,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Incidentally, CEFC China never obtained the oil rights it paid for, prosecutors determined.

While attending the same U.N. General Assembly in 2014, Ho met with General Assembly President Sam Kutesa. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the two men developed a professional relationship over the course of Kutesa’s one-year tenure at the U.N. that included plans for a “strategic partnership” between CEFC China and Uganda when Kutesa returned to his native country.

In February 2016, Kutesa went back to Uganda and assumed the role of Foreign Minister. In the interim, his relative, Yoweri Museveni, had been re-elected president of Uganda.

Kutesa then solicited a payment from Ho that was meant to appear as a charitable contribution. Ho agreed, and requested an invitation to Museveni’s inauguration, private meetings with Museveni and other high-ranking Ugandan officials, and a list of future business projects for CEFC China.

Three months later, Ho and CEFC China executives traveled to Uganda for a meeting, but not before wiring $500,000 to Kutesa’s suspicious charitable foundation. The money was wired through Manhattan, giving the Southern District of New York jurisdiction.

Ye, who was chairman of CEFC China, provided another $500,000 in cash for Museveni’s reelection campaign, though he had already won the election.

“Ho intended these payments to influence Kutesa and Museveni to use their official power to steer business advantages to CEFC China,” prosecutors said.

Kutesa and Museveni followed through on Ho’s requests, and further helped CEFC China acquire a Ugandan bank so they could “partner” in the company’s future profits while operating in the central African country.

“Patrick Ho bribed officials at the highest levels of government in Chad and Uganda in pursuit of lucrative oil deals and other business opportunities, all while using a U.S.-based NGO to conceal his criminal scheme,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski.

While Ho was the focus of the two African bribery schemes, both were influence-peddling operations in service to his boss, Ye Jianming. And Ye was involved in his own coordinated attempts to influence foreign governments, including U.S. officials and institutions.

According to the New York Times, Ye met with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in 2015, and donated nearly $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation and another $500,000 to Columbia University through a separate CEFC China-backed charitable group.

Ye had also proposed a partnership to Hunter Biden after two meetings in 2017 to invest in American infrastructure and energy. Although it’s unclear if Biden partnered with Ye or CEFC China in any business dealings, Biden managed an investment firm at the time called Rosemont Seneca Partners, which was co-founded by Chris Heinz, the stepson of former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

In imposing the 3-year prison sentence on Monday, U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska quoted the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, stating, “Corruption is an insidious plague” that is “found in all countries—big and small, rich and poor—but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive.”

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