For the second time in two years, federal prosecutors have charged foreign businessmen with paying millions of dollars in bribes to secure business deals, with one of the schemes relying on gifts paid to a former president of the United Nations General Assembly.
Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho, 68, of Hong Kong, and Cheikh Gadio, 61, of Senegal, were charged in a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering and conspiracy to commit both.
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"As alleged, Ho's Ugandan scheme was hatched in the halls of the United Nations in New York, when the country's current foreign minister served as the president of the U.N. General Assembly, and then continued unabated upon his return to Uganda," Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a news release announcing the arrests Monday.
William F. Sweeney Jr., head of New York's FBI office, said Ho and Gadio wanted to "get their hands on the rights to lucrative opportunities in Africa."
He said the U.S. government alleged they were "willing to throw money at the leaders of two countries to bypass the normal course of business, but didn't realize that using the U.S. banking system would be their undoing."
Angel M. Melendez, head of New York's Department of Homeland Security office, said the men offered millions of dollars in bribes disguised as charitable donations to gain business advantages.
He said Ho used his position as a consultant to the U.N. Economic and Social Council to further the bribery schemes.
Ho's attorney, Paul Kreiger, declined to comment.
Gadio's attorney, Robert Baum, said his client was surprised by the charges.
"Mr. Gadio has a distinguished career in public service, served as a college professor, and worked in the public interest on numerous projects. He has been a broker for peace in Africa and overseen the expenditure of millions of dollars. His integrity and honesty have never been questioned," Baum said in an email.
Both men made initial court appearances. Ho was being held on consent of his attorneys, while Gadio remained incarcerated on $1 million bail. Once released, he will face electronic monitoring and home incarceration.
Beginning in October 2014, prosecutors said Ho and Gadio arranged bribes to secure business advantages for a Shanghai-headquartered multibillion-dollar conglomerate that operates internationally in the energy and financial sectors.
The company wasn't named but details indicated it was CEFC China Energy, a privately owned firm seen as an up-and-coming player in the country's oil and gas sector. After arriving on the scene just a few years ago, the company now has investments in the Middle East, Africa and Russia, owns thousands of gas stations in Europe, and has a stake in Czech airline CSA. Fortune magazine last year dubbed Chairman Ye Jianming China's "newest oil baron" but some wonder whether the company has Beijing's support given its rapid ascent.
Prosecutors said that in one scheme, Ho and Gadio were charged with causing the energy company to offer a $2 million bribe to the president of Chad to obtain valuable oil rights from the Chadian government without facing international competition.
According to a criminal complaint, Gadio — the former foreign minister of Senegal and the operator of an international consulting firm — connected Ho with the president of Chad in return for a $400,000 payment from Ho.
In a second scheme, Ho — Hong Kong's former home affairs secretary — caused a $500,000 bribe to be paid to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda shortly after he finished his term as president of the U.N. General Assembly, the complaint said. Prosecutors said the bribe was meant to secure business advantages for the energy company, which was not identified in court papers.
Ng Lap Seng, a Chinese billionaire, was convicted in July of paying more than $1.7 million in bribes to U.N. ambassadors to secure rights to build a U.N. conference center in Macau to serve struggling Southern Hemisphere nations. The center was never built.
Former U.N. General Assembly President John Ashe was once charged in that case, but he died in an accident at his home as he awaited trial.
AP writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.