Former Senegalese foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio testified today in bribe-and-money laundering trial. Photo: UNtv File
Was $2 million dollars delivered by a Chinese business delegation in colorful gift wraps to Chad’s President Idriss Deby four years ago intended as a bribe to win over an oil concession valued at $3 billion as the U.S. alleges in an on-going trial in federal court in Manhattan or was it a charitable “donation” as the defendant contends?
What started as a meeting on September 26, 2014 at Trump World Tower United Nations Plaza between Cheikh Tidiane Gadio Senegal’s former foreign minister and the defendant Chi Ping Patrick Ho to explore how the Senegalese could help CEFC China Energy Co., an aggressively growing giant, expand into Africa culminated with the two men facing off today in court with the defendant facing 30 years in prison if convicted of all the charges he faces.
Ho headed an NGO –it also went by the initials CEFC–which was affiliated with the U.N. and funded by CEFC China.
Ho’s attorneys don’t deny that their client flew in a private jet with several other business colleagues to Chad and presented President Deby with $2 million in cash. What they reject are the charges against their client by the Justice Department that the money was meant to bribe Deby. Ho’s attorneys will get their chance to tell jurors his side of the story when they presumably cross-examine witnesses. During opening statements on Monday one of Ho’s attorneys, Ben Rosenberg, said the money was a charitable donation.
The case is being presided over by District Judge Loretta Preska.
Today, jurors heard riveting testimony from Gadio, a friend of President Deby, that he was just as shocked and angered when he was informed shortly after their meeting with Deby by the president himself that the wrapped gifts presented to him after the meeting Gadio had helped broker contained $2 million in cash. Gadio testified that the gifts weren’t opened in his presence but that as soon as he’d returned to his hotel in N’djamena, the Chadian capital, he was summoned back for a meeting with Deby.
Gadio said it had taken him an hour to get back to his hotel after the meeting with Deby, due to traffic. As soon as he’d started settling down for the evening he had to be whisked back by a driver to meet with Deby. He said in the seven years during which they’d been close friends he’s never seen Deby so furious. Gadio testified that the president demanded to know if he’d been aware of the $2 million for an attempted bribe. He said when he denied any prior knowledge, Deby believed him, and told him that his first instinct had been to order his military’s special forces to arrest the business delegation and expel them out of the country when his aides opened the wrapped gifts and discovered the cash.
Instead, Deby summoned the business delegation from CEFC China Energy Co., a multi-billion dollar Shanghai-based energy conglomerate, and confronted it about the apparent bribe money, the next day in the presidential palace where the meeting previously was held. Gadio testified that Deby asked the delegation, “‘Why do you think all Africans are corrupt?'” Ho told Deby that he was “impressed” by the president’s action in rejecting the money, Gadio testified. He testified that Ho told Deby that the characteristics he displayed was the reason why he’d recommended that CEFC partner with Chad as the gateway for its businesses in Africa. Gadio testified that another member of the Chinese delegation, Zhang –whom Gadio said he’d been informed was the second most powerful person at CEFC– then apologized for having offended Deby. Zhang said the $2 million in cash was a charitable donation to Chad and not for Deby personally. The company had erred in the manner in which it presented the donation, Zhang said, according to Gadio’s testimony.
Gadio testified that Deby told the delegation that he’d never heard of any $2 million donation presented wrapped as presents. In any event, Deby still rejected the money and demanded that the CEFC delegation return to China with the money. Zhang then told President Deby that it would be “humiliating” for the delegation to return to China with the money.
It was at that point that Deby’s chief of staff offered a compromise. Immediately upon their return to China, CEFC officials could write a letter to Deby officially offering the donation. Upon receipt of the letter, the donation could be announced with an official ceremony. Gadio testified that Deby accepted the compromise but ordered that the money be removed from the presidential offices. His chief of staff suggested that the money be sealed and kept at the country’s treasury or the office of the country’s prime minister, Gadio testified.
Does this all sounds like a scene from a film? It could well end up in a movie one day. Today it was part of the testimony heard by jurors who will determine the fate of Patrick Ho in a trial that started Monday and is expected to last about two weeks.
Ho faces eight counts related to money-laundering and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which, among other things, is intended to punish people who bribe foreign officials. In addition to allegedly offering the $2 million bribe to Deby, the U.S. alleges that Patrick Ho also paid a total of $1 million in bribes split between Ugandan dictator, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, and the country’s foreign minister, who is also his in-law and is considered to be perhaps the country’s most corrupt official.
In the case of Museveni, the U.S. alleges Patrick Ho took to Uganda in May, 2016 what was referred to as a “nice” gift –in communications intercepted by the F.B.I. apparently when Kutesa served as the President of the U.N. General Assembly– for the dictator. The gift was $500,000 in cash, the U.S. alleges. Ho had been invited, also with a CEFC delegation to attend Museveni’s May 12, 2016 swearing in after elections opposition leaders there say he’d stolen. Kutesa’s own $500,000 cut was wired by Patrick Ho from a New York bank to an account in Uganda that Kutesa and his wife Edith opened for a fake charity they created, the U.S. alleges.
Both Gadio and Patrick Ho were arrested in November 2017 in New York City. Gadio himself originally was charged with accepting $400,000 as bribe for having brokered the meeting between Deby, Patrick Ho and the other CEFC officials. The U.S. dropped charges against Gadio in September, 2018. He is now testifying against Ho. During opening statements Monday, Ho’s attorney Rosenberg made it clear the defense will attack Gadio’s credibility. He said the ex-Senegalese top diplomat wants to run for president in his country and had made a deal with the U.S. to get rid of the damaging charges.
Initially, in addition to wanting to enter the country’s oil industry, CEFC offered to sell military equipment to Chad, and to build up its infrastructure. Correspondences also show the company either wanted to work with, or to displace, China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) which faced a $1.2 billion fine for environmental damages in Chad.
These were the issue discussed when Gadio, Ho and a CEFC delegation met Deby in Chad for the first time on November 13, 2014. It was at a second meeting on December 8, that the alleged bribe was offered.
So, was Gadio himself part of the alleged scheme to bribe Deby?
It appears that an e-mail message from his son, who is his partner in Sarata Holding LLC, the consulting firm they operate together, could boost his claim that he had no prior knowledge of alleged bribe scheme.
During direct examination all day an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Doug Zolkind, offered into evidence several e-mail messages exchanged between Gadio and Patrick Ho, at various stages of their effort to arrange a meeting with Deby. In several of the e-mail messages and text messages exchanged between Gadio and Ho, even after the second meeting with Deby, Gadio expressed frustration. CEFC had not yet executed a consulting contract with Sarata.
Gadio in other messages complained that his firm had not yet been compensated for the work done. In other e-mail messages exchanged between Gadio and Ho, the Senegalese had objected to Ho’s insistence that he arrange the second meeting with Deby because, he testified, all major points had been discussed in the first meeting. The way forward was for CEFC to send a technical team and make a offer to Chad, Gadio wrote to Ho.
In the end, Gadio did arrange the second meeting.
The e-mail messages exchanged between Gadio and his son was discussed at the end of Monday’s testimony. Large companies didn’t like middlemen and CEFC’s “attempt to bribe” Deby was a way for the company to cut them off, the son wrote.
Gadio responded to his son that if CEFC tried to dump Sarata, they would go back to Chad and ruin the company’s reputation.
In his opening comments Gadio said he and Deby had formed a strong bond because they were both Pan-Africans who shared the vision of Kwame Nkrumah –one of the greatest Pan-Africans of the 20th century– of one day having a United States of Africa.
Gaido’s testimony continues tomorrow and presumably some light will be shed on the $400,000 payment the U.S. originally alleged he received.