Judge denies bail for Hong Kong businessman in bribery case

A New York judge rejected bail on Thursday for a prominent Hong Kong businessman awaiting trial in a United Nations-linked bribery conspiracy, saying evidence in a prosecution that could result in decades in prison was strong enough to make him want to flee.

U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest rejected a $10 million bail package suggested by lawyers for Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho, saying she saw no conditions that would adequately ensure that the 68-year-old onetime home affairs secretary of Hong Kong would not try to leave a country where he has no assets and scant ties.

She said Ho may want "to stand and fight" charges, but he also is facing "risks that would reasonably motivate him to flee."

Ho was arrested in November on charges he conspired in October 2014 to pay bribes to the president of Chad and the Ugandan foreign minister so a Chinese energy conglomerate could secure business advantages.

Prosecutors have said the conspiracy to bribe Uganda's foreign minister was created in the halls of the United Nations in New York while the foreign minister of the African nation served as the president of the U.N. General Assembly.

Andrew Levander, one of Ho's lawyers, said Ho believes it is "important to vindicate his name even if it means spending the rest of his years in jail."

Levander said his client has said in emails to a colleague that he would "rather die in jail than embarrass my family and sacrifice my reputation."

"Flee at age 68? Where is he going to go?" Levander asked. "This man would not relish the life of a fugitive. This man wants to vindicate himself."

Ho has pleaded not guilty to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering and conspiracy.

Forrest listened to lengthy bail arguments even though she said at the outset that she believed the government had better arguments based on court papers it had submitted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind said it would be "extremely unlikely if not impossible" to extradite Ho from Hong Kong if he fled and made it there.

He said the Chinese government is now more closely linked than ever to the energy conglomerate that was the source of the bribes.

As she ruled on bail, Forrest attacked what she called one of Ho's chief defense arguments against the charges, citing evidence that there were communications in which it was made clear that the energy conglomerate would benefit from favors it offered.

She also noted that the company paying Ho's legal fees has ties to China.