MANHATTAN (CN) – Casting a 90-story shadow near the United Nations and East River, Trump World Tower once had a unit belonging to China Energy Finance Corp – a company known as CEFC that had grand designs on Russia’s state-run oil giant.
Within that old apartment, a former Senegalese diplomat recounted during three days of testimony, this company hatched a plan four years ago to bribe its way into the African energy market through the oil-rich country of Chad.
Senegal’s ex-foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, who finished three days of grueling testimony in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, is the U.S. government’s star witness against CEFC’s representative Patrick Ho.
During the initial Trump World Tower meeting on Sept. 26, 2014, Gadio said, Ho appeared eager to tap into Chad’s vast petroleum reserves.
Gadio said he worked diligently over the next three months to secure multiple meetings with Chad’s President Idriss Deby, only to watch the deal go south after CEFC brought about eight large gift boxes stuffed with $2 million into the presidential palace.
That CEFC offered the president a gift of that size is undisputed: What happened next resulted in sharp blows during grueling cross-examination, but Gadio insisted Deby reacted with indignation.
“When I walked in, I looked at his face and knew that something was going on,” Gadio said, referring to Deby.
In striking contrast to the Chadian president’s usual demeanor, Gadio said: “This time, there was no smile.”
“Why do people believe that all African leaders are corrupt?” Gadio said Deby asked him.
Gadio repeated that plaintive question throughout his direct examination on Wednesday.
“I feel insulted,” Gadio reported the president saying. “I feel disrespected, and I really don’t understand.”
At first, Gadio said, Deby considered expelling his Chinese guests and insisted they bring the big boxes of cash back to their country. But Gadio said instead Deby confronted Ho’s delegation the next day.
According to Gadio, Ho told Deby: “Mr. President, I am very impressed by your reaction and your rejection of the gift.”
Several pieces of evidence corroborate Gadio’s protestations of innocence. Gadio claimed the parties worked out an arrangement to legitimize the deal by having CEFC send a letter announcing a $2 million donation for civic improvements. Ho sent an email with such an attached letter.
Gadio, who had arranged the visit through his consulting firm Sarata, also testified he feared CEFC had tried to cut him out of a percentage of any signing deal. Text messages between the Senegalese diplomat and his son also provide back up this claim.
“Their attempt to buy the president to put us to the side did not work,” Gadio’s son Bouba wrote in a December 2014 text message. “Big companies don’t like middle men. It’s normal, but they don’t have a choice with us.”
Through initially charged in the same bribery scheme, Gadio secured a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for his cooperation.
Ho’s attorney Edward Kim, from the New York firm of Krieger Kim & Lewin, tried to undermine Gadio’s assertion of clean hands.
During his political career in the West African nation of Senegal, Gadio acknowledged accepting an anonymous donation of 10 million Central African francs from a courier, but denied the exchange was unseemly.
The seemingly vast sum amounts to less than $20,000 in U.S. dollars, Gadio noted, adding that opposition candidates regularly accept such furtive donations to help their benefactors avoid offending the ruling party.
Kim also confronted the witness with a message that shows Gadio complaining a different client of his consulting company tried to cheat him in 2005.
“Actually, this has been my fate with several similar situations where 10 to 20 millions of U.S. dollars were allocated to the president and 40 to 50 percent were intended for me and not one dollar came my way,” Gadio complained to Ho.
Gadio insisted the message was taken out of context. He said he had been referring to consulting services involving other nations and that he received inaccurate information about the dollar amounts.
Though Gadio finished his testimony on that defensive note the trial continues against Ho, who is accused of money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
This is not the first Manhattan Federal Court trial involving corruption at the United Nations to feature a Chinese businessman in the starring role and a cameo by Trump’s sprawling business empire.
Six years before his conviction in the same courthouse in July 2017, Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng met with Trump to formally bid for a casino license in Macau – the would-be site of a U.N. complex brought down by corruption.
That CEFC held a unit in Trump’s U.N.-adjacent tower is something more than happenstance: The tower is a magnet for foreign cash, where “a third of units sold on floors 76 through 83 by 2004 involved people or limited liability companies connected to Russia and neighboring states,” according to a Bloomberg News investigation.
The South China Morning Post placed CEFC’s owner’s pad at Unit 78B.
Before putting their Trump World Tower unit back on the market this year, CEFC paid $9 billion for a minority stake in Russia’s state-run energy company Rosneft. CEFC’s Rosneft deal later fell through for unknown reasons.