A former Hong Kong home-affairs minister who toured the world marketing China’s global investment and infrastructure program was convicted Wednesday of bribing African officials to secure oil rights for a Chinese energy conglomerate.
The high-profile case that played out in Manhattan federal court, at a time of tensions between the U.S. and China, followed similar cases related to alleged bribery at the United Nations involving China-connected figures.
A jury convicted Patrick Ho Chi-ping, who ran the charity arm of Shanghai oil company CEFC China Energy Co., of seven of eight counts, including of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribes of foreign officials to get or keep business. He was acquitted of one count of international money laundering.
A lawyer for Mr. Ho declined to comment. Sentencing is scheduled for March.
Mr. Ho’s “repeated attempts to corrupt foreign leaders were not business as usual, but criminal efforts to undermine the fairness of international markets and erode the public’s faith in its leaders,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
U.S. prosecutors described Mr. Ho, a surgeon-turned-politician who served as Hong Kong’s home-affairs minister from 2002 to 2007, as a pitchman for China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative and said Mr. Ho promoted CEFC interests around the world, disguising bribes as charitable donations.
In court documents, prosecutors said Mr. Ho conducted some of the illegal dealings with high-level African officials at the U.N. in New York, starting as early as the fall of 2014.
A spokesman for the U.N. couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
In one case, prosecutors said, he gave $2 million in gift boxes to Chadian President Idriss Déby; in another, he allegedly gave the Ugandan foreign minister $500,000.
The governments of Chad and Uganda have denied officials accepted bribes.
Mr. Ho had denied the charges, and defense lawyers had described him as a man on a patriotic mission to generate goodwill about Belt and Road, which involved spending CEFC’s money to support the program.
CEFC, whose chairman, Ye Jianming, disappeared in China this year, paid for Mr. Ho’s defense, court records show.
Cheikh Gadio, a former Senegalese foreign minister, was initially charged, but the charges were later dropped as he agreed to testify for the government.
Beginning in 2013, Mr. Ho hosted an annual “China Story” forum at the U.N. through the China Energy Fund Committee, a Chinese nongovernmental organization based in Hong Kong and Virginia that held special consultative status with the U.N. Economic and Social Council. After he described Belt and Road as “globalization 2.0” at the 2017 gathering, Chinese media adopted the characterization.
The conviction shows the aggressive nature of the U.S. in policing the FCPA and bribery conduct that happens within the U.S., said John Nowak, a partner at the law firm Paul Hastings LLP.
He said the conviction shouldn’t have an effect on trade tensions between the U.S. and China.
“The trade fight is much bigger than this one conviction,’ Mr. Nowak said.