US prosecutors have objected to a second bail application from former Hong Kong senior official Patrick Ho Chi-ping, saying “stronger evidence” has been collected since his arrest in November on bribery charges.
They also argued in a nine-page letter to the presiding judge on Thursday that Ho – with reported assets of up to US$8 million – presented “an extreme risk of flight”. Ho was to have his second appearance in court for his bail appeal on Monday at noon New York time.
“Ho is a wealthy, sophisticated businessman with deep connections in China, no current [or even recent] ties to the United States, no property or other assets in the United States, the means to flee, the incentive to flee and close ties to powerful foreign individuals. He presents a severe risk to flight,” the letter read.
Ho, former home affairs secretary in Hong Kong, has been in custody in New York since last November when he was indicted by the Southern District of New York. He faces eight bribery and money laundering charges related to pay-offs to government officials in Africa on behalf of a Chinese oil and gas company.
On his first appearance in court on January 9, Ho pleaded not guilty to the charges and his lawyers appealed against the first rejection of his bail application, offering to raise the personal recognisance bond tenfold to US$10 million.
Ho’s lawyers also proposed securing the bond with US$2 million in cash, and that Ho would be placed under house arrest in a rented flat in Manhattan with electronic monitoring.
They said Ho was also prepared to sign a global waiver of extradition, which meant he would consent to being extradited back to the US in the event that he did leave the country.
But the prosecutors’ letter to District Judge Katherine Forrest revealed that more evidence had been collected since Ho was arrested on November 18 at John F. Kennedy International airport, as the government had interviewed witnesses, executed search warrants and obtained documents from third parties.
It said Ho had an “extremely powerful incentive” to flee, as he faced a maximum sentence of more than 80 years in prison, and based on his presently charged conduct, the jail term was expected to be at least 10 years.
Patrick Ho pleads not guilty in US court to offering US$2.9m in bribes to African presidents and ministers
The government lawyers said Ho had considerable personal wealth as his means to flee, citing a pretrial service document that he had reported assets of between US$7 million and US$8 million and an annual income in excess of US$400,000.
They said Ho, who had “powerful connections in mainland China”, had no meaningful ties to the United States and the letters of Ho’s potential co-signers were friends from decades ago and got together only during his occasional business trip to the US.
And even though Hong Kong and the US had an agreement to surrender fugitives, the prosecutors said the extradition process was cumbersome and not guaranteed, as the treaty contained exceptions such as the case being of a “political character”.
While claims of Ho’s case being of a political character would be “frivolous”, the prosecutors cited a few columns and news reports in Hong Kong and mainland media that speculated about the motive behind the prosecution.
They said the US government would not be able to extradite Ho if he fled after being bailed due to his “high-level ties to countries with which the United State has no extradition treaty, including, but not limited to, China, Chad and Uganda”.
Robert Pretch, a criminal defence lawyer and founder of the New York-based legal think tank Justice Labs, described the custodial facility Ho had been kept in, the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center, in Manhattan, as “oppressive”, “discouraging” and “dehumanising” during a speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong last Monday.
Ho was part of “a scheme to pay and offer money and other things of value to foreign officials in Africa, including the president of Chad, the Ugandan foreign minister and the president of Uganda, to obtain business for” a Shanghai-based energy company, according to an indictment issued in New York last month.
Ho, who had been working for an arm of CEFC China Energy, allegedly sent US$2.9 million worth of bribes to Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa, and Ho’s co-defendant, Cheikh Gadio, Senegal’s ex-foreign minister.