Hong Kong businessman seeks leniency in US bribery case

FILE - In this July 2015, file photo, Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho, former Hong Kong home secretary, deputy chairman of an non-governmental organization funded by CEFC China Energy poses during an interview in Hong Kong. Defense attorneys for the prominent Hong Kong businessman are seeking leniency ahead of his sentencing for paying bribes to the presidents of two African nations. Ho’s defense team filed court papers Tuesday, March 12, 2019, asking a judge to release him on time served for charges including conspiracy, money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Ho was convicted in December 2018 of bribing the presidents of Chad and Uganda to secure oil rights for a Chinese energy conglomerate. (AP Photo/File)

NEW YORK — Defense attorneys urged a U.S. judge Tuesday to grant leniency to a prominent Hong Kong businessman who was found guilty last year of bribing the presidents of two African nations.

Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho, who is also an ophthalmologist and former home affairs secretary in Hong Kong, was convicted in December of paying bribes to the presidents of Chad and Uganda in a bid to secure oil rights for a conglomerate known as CEFC China Energy. Prosecutors said he used his position running that company's think tank to line the pockets of government officials as the oil and gas company sought to expand its business around the world.

Ho was tried in New York because a number of relevant meetings and wire transfers related to the payments occurred in Manhattan. The case attracted international media attention and involved several former presidents of the United Nations General Assembly.

Ho's defense team did not dispute the payments, including $2 million secreted in gift boxes delivered to the president of Chad in 2014, but insisted the transactions were charitable donations.

His lawyers filed court papers asking U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to release him on time served for charges including conspiracy, money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In a lengthy court filing, defense attorneys wrote that Ho "deeply regrets" his actions and will spend the rest of his life atoning for crimes that amounted to "a small and uncharacteristic part of his long and successful life."

They noted Ho has been behind bars since his November 2017 arrest and may spend more time in immigration custody awaiting deportation.

During that time, the defense said, Ho has tutored several fellow inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and taught classes "ranging from geography to personal finance."

"Many individuals in Patrick's situation would have reacted with bitterness and self-pity," defense attorney Edward Kim wrote in the court filing. "But it is ingrained in Patrick to serve no matter the circumstances. In good times and in bad, he considers it his duty to leverage his talents and the good fortune he has enjoyed in his life to better the lives of those around him."

The defense also filed 149 letters from Ho's family, friends, patients and fellow inmates.

Federal prosecutors are expected to weigh in on the defense request next week.

Ho is scheduled to be sentenced March 25.

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