Uganda’s dictator of 32 years Gen. Museveni allegedly received cash bribe from Patrick Ho, U.S. alleges at trial.
The U.S. alleges a Hong Kong intermediary delivered to dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni $500,00 in cash two years ago, as part of bribe money to illegally win lucrative business deals on behalf of a powerful Chinese oil company and that the same individual gave Chad’s president Idriss Deby $2 million also as a bribe.
The Hong Kong native, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, sought on behalf of CEFC China Energy Co., through the bribes, concessions in the oil industry in Chad. In Uganda, in addition to oil, CEFC was to win concessions in the infrastructure, banking, and tourism industry. CEFC was offered the purchase of Uganda’s Crane bank by the country’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa and the company was to build a tourism theme park near Lake Victoria on land allocated by Gen. Museveni according to prosecutors. CEFC was to also form joint venture companies with the families of Museveni and Kutesa, bringing them millions of dollars, the U.S. alleges.
The money delivered by Ho to Deby was in gift boxes and the Chadian president was “furious” by the bribe attempt, prosecutors say. Ho later sent to Deby a letter saying the money was actually a donation that the Chadian president could give to a charity of his choice.
“This case is about greed and corruption,” said Paul Hayden, a trial attorney from the U.S Justice Department, in his opening statement on Monday in the trial of Chi Ping Patrick Ho, the Hong Kong native accused of fronting for CEFC China. The U.S. will present jurors with e-mail messages, letters, and audio recordings to prove its case, in addition to witnesses that include F.B.I agents and a former Ho employee, Hayden said.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska is presiding over the trial in federal court in Manhattan. Although it’s Ho who’s on trial both Museveni and Kutesa may as well have been in the court room as their names were mentioned several times by prosecutors.
Tbe U.S. alleges that Ho, who operated an NGO affiliated with the United Nations used his access to leading diplomats to bribe top African officials. In Uganda’s case, Ho developed relations in 2014 with Kutesa when the country’s foreign minister assumed the one-year post of President of the U.N. General Assembly. After Kutesa’s term expired and he returned to Uganda he created a fake charity to receive a $500,000 “donation” which was actually a bribe payment, the U.S. alleges. The money was wired by Ho on May 6, 2016, to the new account Kutesa created.
Kutesa, whose daughter is married to Museveni’s son, Gen. Muhoozi Kaenerugaba, has a reputation of being one of Uganda’s most corrupt officials. Kutesa also invited Ho and officials of CEFC to Uganda for Museveni’s swearing-in after the 2016 re-election; several election observers including an EU team concluded the vote was neither free nor fair. Prior to traveling to Uganda Ho needed special arrangement with Uganda’s customs officials because he was to carry with him a “nice” gift for Gen. Museveni. The gift was actually a separate $500,000 bribe in cash to Museveni that Ho physically brought to Uganda, according to U.S. prosecutors.
The U.S. says Ho referred to it as a “donation” to Museveni’s campaign even though the vote was over by the time he delivered the cash on May 12, 2016.
Patrick Ho’s lawyer, Ben Rosenberg, conceded that Ho did in fact make payments to Deby, Museveni and Kutesa, but in his opening statement said the payments were not bribes since his client received nothing in return. Rosenberg said just because the payments were in cash “doesn’t make it a bribe.” He said the payments were made to build “good will” just in case the governments of Chad and Uganda were considering business ventures in the future. Big oil companies routinely make such donations, he said.
Rosenberg said Ho was simply “doing his job” by reaching out to African leaders on behalf of Shanghai-based CEFC China, which funds Ho’s NGO. He told jurors that when people engage in conspiracy to bribe and to launder money, they don’t leave a paper trail as Ho, CEFC, and the African officials they dealt with did.
Also originally arrested and charged with Ho in November 2017 was Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Senegal’s former foreign minister. He was allegedly the go-between for Ho and Deby for the $2 million bribe payment and received $400,000 himself. Gadio will now testify for the U.S. government and charges against him have been dropped. This may also explain the softened U.S. stance toward Deby and the narrative that he was angered by Ho’s bribe offer. Rosenberg dismissed anything Gadio may say. He says Gadio wanted to run for president in Senegal and cut a deal with the U.S. to get rid of criminal charges.
The U.S. alleges Ho used New York based financial institutions to wire the funds to Kutesa. He is on trial on eight counts for conspiracy to bribe and on money laundering conspiracy in addition to bribe-payment and money-laundering. Ho faces 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
The trial continues tomorrow. Prosecutors and defense attorneys told Judge Preska they believe the trial will last slightly more than two weeks.