Trial starts for Hong Kong businessman in bribery case

Trial starts for Hong Kong businessman in 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. Jury selection starts Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in New York for the prominent Hong Kong businessman's bribery trial. Ho was arrested in 2017 on charges he paid bribes so a Chinese energy conglomerate could secure business advantages. (AP Photo/File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York trial of a prominent Hong Kong businessman charged in a United Nations-linked bribery conspiracy is set to begin with jury selection Monday.

The trial of Dr. Chi Ping Patrick Ho begins a year after he was arrested on charges accusing him of paying bribes so a Chinese energy conglomerate could secure business advantages. He has been held without bail.

His lawyer has said Ho is looking forward to clearing his name. Ho was once Hong Kong’s home affairs secretary.

Ho has insisted he is not guilty of charges that he conspired in October 2014 to bribe the president of Chad and the Ugandan foreign minister.

Prosecutors say Ho’s former co-defendant, Cheikh Gadio, will testify at trial that Ho arranged a million bribe to be delivered to Chad’s president in gift boxes.

Last Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska overruled defense objections, saying Gadio can testify that he understood Ho’s million cash payment to President Idriss Deby to be a “bribe.”

Ho’s lawyers had argued that Gadio’s testimony as to whether the million was a “bribe” was lay opinion and should be kept out of evidence the jury can consider.

Preska said she agreed with arguments by prosecutors that it would be difficult for Gadio to convey his understanding about the payment to the jury without using the word “bribe.”

She said banning him from use of the word would risk confusing the jury.

The judge said she will also let prosecutors show jurors evidence that Ho would only contribute money to a former U.N. official if the official agreed to take actions to benefit the energy conglomerate. And she said she’ll let jurors see evidence of Ho’s brokering Iranian transactions and arms transactions.

She said she’ll ban other evidence though, including arguments about the merits of projects Ho sought to advance through bribery or good causes toward which the officials he bribes could have used the bribe payments.

Preska also noted that defense lawyers have said they will not try to argue that the U.S. brought the case against Ho as part of a broader campaign against China or that the timing of the prosecution was part of a broader political agenda.