MANHATTAN (CN) – Recapping testimony about gift boxes stuffed with $2 million in cash, a federal prosecutor told jurors at closing arguments Tuesday that a Hong Kong businessman’s globe-hopping corruption scheme has the trappings of a Hollywood thriller.
“That is a quintessential bribe,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Samuel Zolkind said during closing arguments this morning. “It’s a classic – like something out of a movie.”
In the starring role of this Manhattan trial is tycoon Chi Ping Patrick Ho, the leader of a think tank tied to CEFC China Energy who sought to court the African energy market.
As the secretary general of China Energy Funding Committee – a U.S. and Hong Kong-registered charity with United Nations accreditation – Ho was supposed to be the corporation’s philanthropic face. Federal prosecutors claim that Ho exploited the entity for more sinister purposes like money laundering, arms trafficking and bribing the presidents of Chad and Uganda. Both countries rank consistently toward the bottom of Transparency International’s anti-corruption index.
“He didn’t want to start that negotiation on an even playing field,” prosecutor Zolkind said. “He wanted an advantage. So, he decided to cheat.”
On the road to closing arguments this morning, Senegalese diplomat Cheikh Gadio spent three days on the witness stand where he recounted meetings with Ho at the United Nations and the apartment of CEFC’s owner at Trump World Tower. Gadio said that Ho’s delegation eventually traveled to Chad in a private jet with several gift boxes packed with $2 million in U.S. dollars to Chad’s President Idriss Deby.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not how legitimate business is done,” Zolkind said.
Deby, a dictator who has ruled Chad since 1990, claims to have rejected the offer. Gadio said that Deby insisted that the CEFC delegation legitimize the transaction with a letter that would put the money to public use.
“Dr. Ho said, ‘Mr. President, I’m very impressed by your reaction and your attitude, your rejection of the gift,” Gadio testified.
Ho’s attorney Edward Kim, a founding partner of the Manhattan-based firm Krieger Kim & Lewin LLP, spent much of his summations attacking Gadio’s credibility.
“Gadio’s story was dramatic. I’ll give him that,” Kim said. “But Gadio’s story was a lie.”
It is undisputed that the Chad deal ultimately fizzled out, though evidence showed that Ho pursued a possible agreement long after the meeting with Deby.
In March 2015, Ho sent Gadio a text offering $200 million in U.S. dollars up front for 10 percent rights – “plus some arms,” which testimony showed was to be used against the militant group Boko Haram.
Prosecutors claim that CEFC’s negotiations went south after the attempted bribe, but Ho’s attorney insisted that its ultimately failure vindicated his client.
“Don’t let them pause this movie on the day the payment is made,” Kim said.
'The Problem Is – Uh, It’s Give and Take'
Kim's client Ho is charged with eight counts of money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and several of the counts do not require prosecutors to prove that the bribes were completed or resulted in a benefit.
Roughly half of the charges related to Ho’s pursuit of an oil deal in Uganda, evidence of which implicated two successive U.N. General Assembly presidents: John Ashe and Sam Kutesa.