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US Appeals Court upholds ruling on bribe to Kutesa

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Foreign Affairs Minister, Sam Kutesa. PHOTO/FILE.

The United States Court of Appeals has confirmed the 36-month jail sentence and a $400,000 penalty against Hong Kong citizen Chi Ping Patrick Ho who was accused of corruption and bribing Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa to facilitate his business interests in Uganda.  

A panel of three US justices: Raggi, Chin and Richard Sullivan, upheld the earlier judgment of Justice Loretta A. Preska of the Lower Court of Southern District of New York.

In March 2019, Justice Loretta ruled that Ho, a former officer of a US-based organisation China CEFC Energy Company, had hatched a scheme to bribe African leaders, including Mr Kutesa and Chad President Idriss Deby, in exchange for commercial advantages.

However, Ho appealed the ruling. He argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction and that the indictment against him was defective.

He reasoned that the indictment contained contradictions when it alleged that he was a “domestic concern” yet it presented charges that did not apply to “domestic concerns.”

However, the justices of the appeals court on Tuesday, dismissed Ho’s appeal and confirmed the lower court’s verdict. The justices reasoned that an indictment’s inconsistency caused by conjunctive pleading poses no great theoretical potential to affect the grand jury’s determination.

“For the reasons set forth below, we reject each of Ho’s challenges and affirm the district’s judgment. Indeed, unlike a violation of grand jury secrecy rules, such an inconsistency would seem to pose little risk to a defendant’s right to a fair trial before the petit jury… giving further assurance that the petit jury’s subsequent guilty verdict means not only that there was a probable cause to believe that the defendants were guilty as charged, but also they are in fact guilty as charged beyond reasonable doubt,” the appellate judges ruled. 

The court documents show that Ho aged 70, used his position as an officer of the US-based non-governmental organisation to engage in two bribery schemes for the benefit of China CEFC Energy Company, a non-profit conglomerate based in Shanghai.

He was sentenced by a New York judge after conviction on seven charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering for bribes.

‘Ho background’
Court documents show that in 2014, Ho sought introduction to minister Kutesa to help CEFC Energy develop business in Uganda’s oil fields. Mr Kutesa had at the time begun his one-year term as president of the UN General Assembly.

Ho is accused of contacting Kutesa’s office at the UN in New York where he introduced himself as the deputy chairperson and secretary general of CEFC, a Chinese think-tank registered in Hong Kong and also in the US as a public charity.  The court documents further indicated that Mr Kutesa, through his wife, solicited a bribe from Ho to be disguised as a payment to a charitable foundation in Uganda.

“Ho requested and ultimately received, authorisation from the chairperson of CEFC Energy to make a half a million dollar payment to Kutesa’s charity. Ho then contacted Mr Kutesa to advise him that the payment would be made and to procure an invitation to the inauguration of President Museveni,” court documents read in part.

Subsequently, Ho and CEFC Energy delegation attended Mr Museveni’s inauguration in May 2016 and met with President Museveni, Mr Kutesa and others.

It’s alleged that after the said trip, Ho e-mailed Mr Kutesa and reiterated that CEFC Energy was eager to partner with Kutesa’s family business.

Further, the court documents show that on May 5, 2016, Ho wired $500,000 (about Shs1.9b) from CEFC to an account belonging to the Food Security and Sustainable Energy Foundation at Stanbic Bank in Kampala as a donation to the foundation designated by minister Kutesa.

Mr Kutesa strongly denied the bribery allegations and explained that the money in question was meant to benefit a charity organisation in Uganda.

Following Ho’s conviction, President Museveni directed Uganda’s Attorney General Mr William Byaruhanga to ascertain whether the wired money was for charity as claimed by Mr Kutesa.

A preliminary report that was tabled before Parliament cleared Mr Kutesa of any wrongdoing.  The AG explained that Mr Kutesa’s foundation is a lawfully registered Ugandan entity incorporated on July 24, 2015 and received $500,000 in 2016.

Culled from Daily Monitor.

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