Patrick Ho flew to New York in fall 2014. His objective, according to the Justice Department, was to reward African officials on behalf of a private Chinese conglomerate with overall desires and huge wealth.
In meetings at the United Nations, Mr. Ho, a former Hong Kong civil servant, laid the preparation for millions of dollars of payments to the president of Chad and Uganda’s foreign minister in exchange for oil rights in the two nations, federal prosecutors say.
The allegations against Mr. Ho, detailed in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan, became public this week after officials charged him and Cheikh Gadio, a former Senegalese official who acted as a mediator for Mr. Ho, with international money laundering and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Mr. Gadio was arrested on Friday and Mr. Ho on Saturday, the Justice Department said.
The complaint does not name the Chinese company Mr. Ho represented, but the details of the case make clear the company’s identity: CEFC China Energy Company.
Details outlined by the Justice Department reveal the inventive tactics the company pursued to protected coveted oil rights in Chad and Uganda through its nonprofit think tank in Hong Kong. Mr. Ho was an executive at the worthless.
CEFC has risen quickly from a little known Chinese company to a major player in the overall energy business, with investments in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. In September, the Chinese conglomerate took a $9 billion stake in Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned energy giant and a subject of approvals by the United States.
CEFC has played to China’s geopolitical ambitions. It is among little number Chinese companies to receive Beijing’s approval to chase flashy deals at a time when the government has mostly restricted overseas additions. The investments have largely meshed with China’s approach to court other countries through infrastructure and energy investment.
Chinese businesses like CEFC are increasingly mixing money with diplomacy as they scour the world to protected valuable natural resources. The criminal complaint against Mr. Ho shows how the practice can be wry, offering rare insight into a big, mysterious conglomerate with ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
CEFC gives all of the financing for the China Energy Fund Committee, a Hong Kong research organization. The conglomerate’s founder, Ye Jianming, is listed as a chairman on the think tank’s website.
Through Mr. Ho, the think tank brokered the approaches to officials in Chad and Uganda, prosecutors say. Details included in the complaint about the company and think tank was proved by news releases from the CEFC’s website.
In a statement, CEFC disputed the accusation. It said it was “highly concerned” about the action taken against Mr. Ho, a former home affairs secretary in Hong Kong, and added that the think tank did not “get involved in business activities of CEFC.”
CEFC has appear from obscurity in recent years as a major player in the China’s plans for a modern day Silk Road, scooping up businesses in the oil, travel and financial industries in the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Spain and the Middle East. Along the way, it has grown into a behemoth with profit of nearly $40 billion in 2015, according to corporate confessions.
Mr. Ye, who was 25 when he started the company, has been both a corporate leader and a diplomatic delegate of sorts, posing for photographs with leaders like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, and President Idriss Déby of Chad. He has also met with Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, and Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman.
His think tank holds special consultative place with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. According to its website, it has formed conferences “on world civilizations to explore common ethics” that have featured senior American military officials and Chinese People’s Liberation Army generals.
In China, CEFC has become a outstanding corporate player. Its oil storage facilities in Hainan Province are leased to the state-owned giant ChemChina as part of the country’s strategic reserves. The company also has joint deals with the state-backed China State Shipbuilding, China Railway and Guangdong Material Reserve Administration. The Communist Youth League, which has long bred new generations of party leaders, is listed as a part of the CEFC management that oversees approach.
CEFC has sought major oil deals outside China, playing a major role in President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road drive to bring developing nations on China’s periphery closer to its orbit through infrastructure projects.
In September, CEFC agreed to take the stake in Rosneft. In October, Chan Chauto, the company’s president, met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at an investment forum in Moscow.
CEFC also has a joint venture with Kazakhstan’s national oil company, KazMunayGas International, which has given it connection to a network of oil and gas terminals in Europe.
It was the company’s quest of oil rights in Africa that attracted the Justice Department’s attention.
Mr. Ho met Mr. Gadio, a former foreign minister in Senegal, at the United Nations with a proposition, according to the complaint filed in Manhattan. CEFC wanted to spread its oil operations into Chad, and to do so with CNPC, a state-owned Chinese company facing a $1.2 billion fine in Chad for environmental violations.
Mr. Gadio, who helped broker a peace agreement that ended the military clash between Chad and Sudan, assisted facilitate a CEFC pledge in early 2015 that it would make a $2 million “donation” to Mr. Déby for charitable causes, according to emails and documents obtained by the Justice Department.
The pledge was intended to influence the government to give CEFC the exclusive rights to certain oil blocks, federal prosecutors say. In the end, the company acquired other oil rights from a Taiwanese company. But Chad’s fine against CNPC was basically lowered to $400 million, and CEFC is in talks to develop an oil project in the nation with CNPC, according to the CEFC website. Mr. Ho is accused of paying Mr. Gadio $400,000 for his services.
In a statement, CEFC said its deal with the Taiwanese company was a “financial investment in Chad” that did not involve any other “interest” from the country’s government.
Edward Y. Kim, Mr. Ho’s lawyer, dismissed to comment. Robert Baum, a lawyer for Mr. Gadio, said that his client’s “integrity and honesty have never been questioned. The current charges do not reflect the decades of work he has correctly and capably performed.”
Around the time that Mr. Ho met with Mr. Gadio, he also initiated contact with Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, according to the complaint. Mr. Kutesa had just become president of the United Nations General Assembly, according to the Justice Department. Over the course of a year, the two struck up a friendship, the complaint says.
By 2015, Mr. Kutesa, in his General Assembly role, had appointed Mr. Ye as a “special honorary adviser,” officials said.
When Mr. Kutesa returned to his position as Uganda’s foreign minister, he solicited a payment from Mr. Ho in the form of a donation for a charitable foundation that he planned to launch, according to the Justice Department. The payment was actually in exchange for oil contracts, according to U.S. officials. Mr. Ho wired $500,000 into a bank account designated by Mr. Kutesa, who is not charged in the criminal complaint.
The Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment. CEFC said it had no asset in Uganda.
Two weeks after the complaint says the money was wired, Mr. Kutesa’s wife sent a note to Mr. Ho, asserting the couple’s thanks to Mr. Ye of CEFC.
“Let me seize this opportunity,” she wrote, “to bring our gratitude to the chairman for his contribution to our foundation.”