MANHATTAN (CN) – As a holiday season bribery trial began, a federal prosecutor regaled jurors on Monday with tales of a Hong Kong businessman giving an African president several gift boxes – stuffed with $2 million in cash instead of presents.
Hayden had been referring to the government’s case against Chi Ping Patrick Ho, the head of a think tank associated with the Chinese energy company CEFC China Energy.
A little more than a year has passed since New York federal prosecutors charged Ho and Senegalese diplomat Cheikh Gadio with conspiring to bribe Chadian and Ugandan officials, in order to tap the vast oil reserves of both nations.
Former Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim filed the charges against the men on Nov. 16, 2017. Their indictment is part of a series of cases initiated in late 2015 by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, alleging bribing at the heart of the United Nations.
Prosecutors claim that Ho paid bribes out of banks near U.N. headquarters in New York and met Gadio while schmoozing inside the diplomatic headquarters in search of a conduit into Africa’s energy market.
Gadio is expected to testify against Ho at trial.
“It certainly wasn’t business as usual,” Hayden said during his opening statement Monday. “It was corrupt and criminal and that’s why we are all here today.”
It is undisputed that Ho paid Chad’s President Idriss Deby millions through Gadio and another $500,000 to Uganda’s foreign minister, but Ho’s attorney Benjamin Rosenberg of Dechert LLP claims that the payments were legitimate.
“This is a bribery case with no bribes,” he insisted. “A bribe is not a gift. It is a trade.”
Ho faces eight charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money laundering and related conspiracy counts.
“CEFC Energy unquestionably made payments in both countries,” Rosenberg acknowledged, referring to Chad and Uganda.
Prosecutor Hayden told the jury that the bribery scheme was accomplished through “winks and nods.”
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska is presiding over the case.
In July 2017, a New York jury convicted a different Chinese businessman – billionaire Ng Lap Seng – of unrelated corruption charges tied to late U.N. Secretary-General John Ashe, who died before trial.