Kutesa-Museveni Bribe Case: Chinese Businessman Enters Not-Guilty plea in U.S. Court

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Patrick Ho shown in Uganda with Gen. Museveni and Kutesa.

A Chinese businessman charged in the U.S. with paying bribes to the leadership of Uganda and offering $2 million to Chad's president to gain favor in the energy sector for an oil giant, formally entered a not guilty plea in federal district court in New York on Monday.

It could take several months before the case goes to trial, if it does, after an anticipated long discovery period between prosecutors and lawyers representing Patrick Ho Chi Ping, the businessman, who remains detained since his November, 2017 arrest. The U.S. has built its case based on monitored communications including e-mail messages and an F.B.I. agent also traveled to Uganda. By searching more than 10 e-mail accounts the U.S. obtained "several hundred thousand" documents, prosecutors say.

Ho's lawyers previously asked U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest to grant him $10 million bail and house arrest in New York with an electronic-monitoring device after prosecutors told the judge they consider him a flight risk. Ho is a former Home Affairs minister in Hong Kong. The bail matter didn't come up Monday. Ho was brought into court wearing prisoner's uniform.

During a hearing last month prosecutor Daniel C. Richenthal said if Ho fled to China "or for that matter Uganda or Chad the countries in which he committed the bribery offenses we can never get him back."

The Trump Administration in its new National Security Strategy document says African governments involved in corruption would be sanctioned.

The U.S. alleges that in order to gain favor in the oil sector in Uganda and Chad, on behalf of an unnamed Shanghai-based multi-billion dollar oil company, Ho gave "special gifts" to Uganda's ruler Gen. Museveni and foreign minister Sam Kutesa and offered $2 million to Chad's President Idriss Deby. Kutesa also received $500,000 which was wired from a New York bank to his Ugandan account under the guise of a donation to a fake charity, the U.S. alleges. Kutesa also solicited separately $500,000 for Gen. Museveni, according to the U.S. 

In Uganda Ho also sought on behalf of the Chinese company concessions in the banking, tourism, transport and other sectors. After presidential elections in 2016 that Ugandan and international observers concluded were not free or fair, Ho was invited by Gen. Museveni for his swearing in. Ho then delivered unidentified "special gifts" for both Kutesa and Gen. Museveni, the U.S. alleges.

Also arrested in November and charged in connection to the case was Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Senegal's former minister of Foreign Affairs whom the U.S alleges was paid $400,000 as a go-between for the $2 million bribe offer to President Deby.

Although the Chinese company wasn't named, court papers and other details make it clear it was Shanghai-based CEFC China Energy Company, which has denied acting improperly. Chad's president has denied accepting a $2 million bribe.

Kutesa, a powerful official in Uganda, has been implicated in several multi-million dollar domestic and international corruption schemes in the past. Kutesa, whom the U.S. alleges hatched the bribe scheme when he became president of the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, has ignored calls for his resignation by opposition member lawmakers. The country's Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga blocked attempts to have a hearing on the U.S. corruption allegations by Ugandan lawmakers.

Museveni's family runs Uganda like a personal business. His wife Janet is Education minister. Kutesa's daughter is married to Gen. Museveni's son Gen. Muhoozi Kaenerugaba. The Economist reported in its December 7, 2017 issue that lawmakers belonging to Museveni's ruling NRM party were paid $8,120 each to remove an age-75 ceiling from the constitution so he can run again and extend his 32 years reign.

The U.S. State Department and Justice Department declined to say whether Kutesa's U.S. visa has been revoked and Homeland Security didn't respond to a previous inquiry. U.K. authorities considered revoking Kutesa's visa after $27 million was stolen when Uganda in 2007 hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Ho operates Hong Kong and Virginia, U.S., -based NGO called Energy Fund China Committee. It is fully-funded by CEFC China Energy.

Ho faces eight-counts in the alleged money laundering and bribery scheme; he's expected back in court on February 2.

Gadio the ex-Foreign Minister of Senegal already had been granted home confinement in New York.

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