Hong Kong businessman gets 3 years in prison for bribery

A prominent Hong Kong businessman earned leniency with a three-year prison sentence dispensed Monday by a judge who said bribes paid to the presidents of two African countries were serious crimes but kindness including playing violin for fellow inmates was extraordinary.

U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska sentenced Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho, 69, who is also an ophthalmologist and was once Hong Kong's home affairs secretary.

Preska said acts of charity were common for those who had achieved Ho's wealth, but he went "above and beyond" by restoring sight for strangers, bringing music to the Metropolitan Correction Center and tutoring inmates who then finished high school.

"It is indeed extraordinary," Preska said.

Ho was convicted in December of paying bribes to the presidents of Chad and Uganda in a scheme to secure oil rights for an energy conglomerate known as CEFC China Energy.

Lawyers for Ho insisted at trial that payments to the presidents were legitimate charitable donations. The payments included $2 million in gift boxes delivered to Chad's president in 2014.

Ho was charged in New York City by authorities who cited meetings and wire transfers in Manhattan related to the bribes.

Prosecutors had recommended Ho serve five years. Defense lawyers said his 16 months behind bars as a model inmate were enough.

Ho will likely serve about another year behind bars before he is deported.

"The actions that have caused this suffering and brought me to this courtroom today were mine and mine alone," he told Preska as he choked up several times.

"I accept full responsibility for them and I am deeply sorry," Ho said.

He said he was grateful to guards and inmates at the MCC for keeping him safe.

When he finished his remarks, Ho took a full bow before the judge to show his "gratitude and appreciation."

During a weeklong trial, prosecutors said Ho approached the presidents of Chad and Uganda on behalf of CEFC China Energy after growing accustomed to using money to entice foreign officials to help the company expand its business.

Prosecutors say the Ugandan scheme emerged at the United Nations in New York when Uganda's foreign minister served as president of the U.N. General Assembly.