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U.S. charges two with bribing African officials for China energy firm

(Reuters) - The United States has charged a former Senegalese foreign minister and a former top Hong Kong government official with links to a Chinese energy conglomerate with bribing high-level officials in Chad and Uganda in exchange for contracts for the mainland company.

Chi Ping Patrick Ho, 68, of Hong Kong, and Cheikh Gadio, 61, were charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering and conspiracy, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement on Monday.

It said Gadio, a former foreign minister of Senegal, was arrested in New York on Friday. It added that Ho, a former Hong Kong home affairs secretary who heads a non-governmental organization based in Hong Kong and Virginia, was arrested on Saturday.

“Wiring almost a million dollars through New York’s banking system in furtherance of their corrupt schemes, the defendants allegedly sought to generate business through bribes paid to the president of Chad and the Ugandan foreign minister,” Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was quoted as saying in the statement.

No one could be reached at the embassies of Chad and Uganda in Washington late on Monday. The missions did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.

In a statement, the U.S. Justice Department said the case against Ho involved two bribery schemes to pay high-level officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages for a Shanghai-headquartered, multibillion-dollar energy firm.

This energy company funded a non-government organization (NGO) based in Hong Kong and Virginia that Ho heads, the statement said, without naming the Shanghai company or the NGO.

Ho is the secretary general of the Hong Kong-based China Energy Fund Committee, a mainland-backed think-tank that describes itself as a charitable, non-government organization.

China Energy Fund Committee is fully funded by CEFC China Energy, a Shanghai-based private conglomerate, according to the think tank’s website.

The organization did not respond to an email requesting comment.

CEFC China Energy said in a statement posted on its website late on Tuesday that: “As a non-governmental, non-profit organization, the fund is not involved in the commercial activities of CEFC China Energy.”

CEFC does not have any investment in Uganda, the company said in the statement, and its investment in Chad had been acquired via a stake bought from Taiwan’s state-owned Chinese Petroleum Corp and it had not dealt directly with the Chad government.

“The company will continue monitoring this matter and will take necessary measures based on developments,” it said.

CEFC has been a key player in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, which aims to bolster China’s global leadership ambitions by building infrastructure and trade links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing Tuesday that he was not aware of the specific details of the case.

“I want to emphasize that the Chinese government consistently requires Chinese companies abroad to operate lawfully and abide by local laws and regulations.”

Idriss Deby has been Chad’s president since 1990. Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa served as the president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2014 and 2015.

Ho’s attorney, Ed Kim, of Krieger Kim & Lewin LLP, declined to comment to Reuters. Bob Baum of Federal Defenders, who represented Gadio for the bail argument, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ho was ordered detained after appearing in court on Monday, the Justice Department statement said. It said Gadio appeared before a judge on Saturday and is being held until he can meet the conditions of a $1 million bond, according to court records.

The Justice Department said a $2 million bribe was paid to Chad’s president, who then provided the company with an opportunity to obtain oil rights in Chad without international competition.

The department said in the statement that Gadio was the go-between and was paid $400,000 by Ho via wire transfers through New York.

The Justice Department accused Ho of being involved with bribes and promises of future benefits to Uganda’s foreign minister in exchange for help in obtaining business advantages for the Chinese company. 

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