Patrick Ho case update: the prisoner and the oil baron

09 Mar 2018
Author: Robert Precht

Former Hong Kong Home Secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping has been jailed in Manhattan since November 2017 and repeatedly denied bail as he awaits trial on charges that he made millions of dollars in bribes to African officials to obtain lucrative oil rights for Chinese conglomerate CEFC. It’s my hypothesis that that the Trump administration is using the case to put a spotlight on Chinese corruption in Africa -- something many academics, politicians and business people have long suspected but found difficult to prove. What’s more, if the prosecution’s evidence is to be believed, it’s likely that Ho might be asked to expose other corrupt people in China to reduce his sentence.

Consistent with this hypothesis, CEFC’s Chairman Ye Jianming was reportedly detained on March 1, 2018 and placed under investigation by Chinese authorities. A recent Economist article says that the reasons for the detention are mysterious, but I think there is at least one plausible explanation -- Chinese authorities arrested Ye to preempt Americans from indicting him.

The evidence against Ho largely consists of intercepted emails between CEFC and Ho and between Ho and his African accomplices. The U.S. prosecutors already had some evidence that Ye authorized the bribes when they arrested Ho. For example, according to the criminal  complaint against Ho (page 17), CEFC emailed a document to Ho stating “Per direction of the [C]hairman… all documents requiring approval/review by the [C]hairman shall be sent to the [Chairman’s Account].”

Whether the evidence against Ye was strong enough to charge him when Ho was arrested in November 2017 is open to question. There’s now been an elapse of several months since Ho’s arrest, and there’s great pressure on him to cooperate and supply incriminating information about others to reduce his sentence. Chinese officials may fear that U.S. prosecutors have obtained sufficient incriminating information against Ye to indict him. Ye might not face trial in the U.S. since the two countries don’t have an extradition treaty. But a U.S indictment against Ye could be a big embarrassment to the Chinese Communist Party.  

Ye has close ties to government projects and state banks. An indictment might reveal both the prevalence of Chinese corruption in African and the lack of anti-corruption enforcement by Chinese regulators. By taking Ye into custody now officials may be hoping to forestall an explosive U.S. prosecution and to send the message that China is serious about cleaning its own house.