[Editor's Note: Do not actually do these things.]
Are you looking to break into the blossoming African oil market? Are you high on funds and low on scruples? Do you mind turning the United Nations into the scene of a crime?
If you answered "Yes, yes and of course not," then I've got good news for you: By following the steps laid out in a recent criminal complaint by the Department of Justice, you too can (allegedly) attempt to corrupt foreign officials with promises of "very confidential financial assistance," engage in secret meetings in faraway places, get caught and face potentially years in prison should you be convicted.
What follows is drawn from a complaint [PDF] written by an FBI agent and filed by the Department of Justice in the case against Chinese national and former Hong Kong government official Chi Ping Patrick Ho and former Senegal Foreign Affairs Minister Cheikh Gadio, who were arrested a little more than a week ago and stand accused, among other things, of attempting to bribe the President of Chad to give oil rights to a powerful Chinese energy firm in 2014 and 2015. The Chinese firm that stood to benefit has denied any wrongdoing, as did an unnamed attorney for Ho, according to a Chinese news report. A New York-based attorney for Ho declined to comment to Code and Dagger today, and a public defender assigned to Gadio has not responded to a request from last week. The Chadian government, whose president Idriss Deby features prominently though unnamed in the DOJ's complaint, strenuously denied allegations against him, which the government reportedly called a "shameful fabrication" and an attempt to "tarnish the image of Chad and its president." So there's that.
Step 1: Set Up a 'Charity' to Front Your Purported Illicit Activities
You can't just walk up to someone in the halls of the U.N. with a suitcase full of cash. Be cool. It's all about middlemen and creating at least a little distance.
In Ho's case, the DOJ says he worked for a non-governmental organization that was officially listed in business filings as a 501(c)(3) "charitable organization" based in Hong Kong. That organization, which is not identified in the complaint, was identified in the Chinese press report as the China Energy Fund Committee. The organization is directly funded by what the DOJ describes as a large Shanghai-based oil and gas conglomerate called only the "Energy Company." The Chinese press report identified that one as CEFC China Energy.
The website for the China Energy Fund Committee seems to be undergoing some technical difficulties at the moment, but a cached version describes it as a "non-governmental, non-profit civil society organization" with "Special Consultative Status" with a U.N. organization. The committee also "serves as a high-end strategic think tank engaged in energy strategy research, energy and public diplomacy, as well as global energy cooperation and cultural exchanges." (This description is identical to the one found in the criminal complaint for the unidentified non-profit. Another website purporting to be CEFC's is live as of this report, has a similar description and lists a "Patrick C.P. Ho" as Deputy Chairman and Secretary General.)
It was CEFC China Energy, the Shanghai-based energy behemoth, that the DOJ says wanted the rights to oil fields in Chad, and Ho was the point man for one avenue of influence with the Chadian government, without directly working for the energy company. The complaint says the energy company and the NGO "share various executives, including the Chairman of both organizations." Ho's reports on how the purported scheme was progressing were forwarded to the "Chairman."
Step 2: Reconnect With 'Old Friends'
Like the saying goes, it's not about what you know, it's who you know. Do you already know a top former foreign government official with connections to potentially shady decision-makers? Excellent start.
The Chinese energy company needed someone close to the Chadian president and, luckily, Ho knew just the man.
It's unclear how Ho and Gadio first met, but in an October 2014 report meant for the NGO and energy company's "Chairman," Ho said, "A[t] the U.N. gatherings, met an old friend, former foreign minister of Senegal... His name is Dr. Gadio."
The complaint says, "HO enlisted GADIO -- who had a personal relationship with the President of Chad -- to assist the Energy Company in gaining access to the President of Chad, with the... ultimate goal of obtaining lucrative oil opportunities in Chad for the Energy Company."
For these and later efforts, Gadio was to be paid $400,000, structured as three separate payments to Gadio's consulting firm. (Gadio tried and failed to negotiate for more.)
Step 3: Use Cool Code Names
What's the fun in running an international conspiracy if you don't use code names? Like, put your favorite color next to your favorite animal and, boom, you get Onyx Salamander. It's that easy.
Ho and Gadio went criminally light on code names for their alleged scheme -- really only one: the "big man."
The DOJ says at the outset of the ordeal, a mutual acquaintance of Ho and Gadio said in an email that Gaido was "going to see the big man on 12 October" and later "fly back to the big man's country where we would join him for a meeting."
Clever as always, the FBI special agent who filed the criminal complaint wrote, "Based on my participation in this investigation, I believe the term 'big man' in the aforementioned email is a reference to the President of Chad." (He was later referred to as "the Boss" as well, but often the alleged conspirators drop any pretense and just call him "the President.")
Ho also called Shanghai "SH" in an email, but that could just be laziness on his part.
Step 4: Set Up a Secret Meeting in the 'Middle of the Desert'
So you've gotten close to the right people and set up a meeting with the "big man," but where to have it?
In an October 2014 email, Gaido suggested to Ho it would be wise to avoid the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, where "enemies and lobbyists" might not take too kindly to the Chinese deal, and instead meet in a "village in the middle of the desert."
Gaido added that the attending Chinese company's representatives should probably fly into Ethiopia, rather than N'Djamena, before carrying on to the village "to safeguard the confidentiality of our meeting."
The complaint doesn't make it clear where exactly in Chad the Chinese energy firm's delegation met with the Chadian president, but says that it happened on Nov. 11, 2014 and lasted about two hours.
A second meeting purportedly took place in March 2015, under the condition from the Chadian president that it be conducted in "extreme confidentiality."
Step 5: Make Sure Someone Else Hasn't Already Bribed the Government You're Trying to Bribe
You've come all this way and then, oh what the hell, someone else has already bribed officials in the same country for the same stuff you want? Bad luck, mate.
In the meeting with the Chinese energy company executives, the President of Chad allegedly stated that he was eager to start extracting oil from a particular area called "H Block," suggesting it could be part of a deal with the Chinese, but there was one problem:
"The President of Chad stated that he was under pressure to give the 'H Block' rights to Brazil because Brazil already 'bribed' those in charge of this matter," the complaint says, allegedly pulling from a report on the meeting written by Ho for the Chairman. "However, the President said he was personally willing to give this oilfield project to the Energy Company instead." (Representatives for the Brazilian embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Code and Dagger.)
After the meeting, according to Ho's report, the Chadian president told Ho to use Gadio as their go-between, so they could avoid having to deal with pesky bureaucrats in Chad's Energy Department or other departments.
(After the DOJ unsealed the complaint, the Chadian government reportedly said in addition to its denials, "the president of the republic has always worked for the transparency and proper management of its natural resources... Chad reaffirms its total sovereignty and will continue to pursue its fight for the development and social welfare of the people of Chad.")
Step 6: Wait, They're Not 'Bribes,' They're Multi-Million-Dollar 'Donations'
You're almost there. The deal is just about set and you've just got to reel it in. Time for the brib-- I mean-- donations to worthy causes that happen to result in oil fields for you and your friends.
Following the meeting in Chad, the complaint says Gaido wrote to Ho and advised him to provide a "reward" to the president of Chad with a "nice financial package" in hopes of nailing down the deal for that sweet, sweet H Block.
On Dec. 11, 2014, Ho allegedly emailed the assistant to an executive at the Chinese energy company with a proposed letter for the Chadian president:
"Your Excellency Mr. President. We, [the Energy Company], are very much impressed by your able leadership in your country and the way that you care for your people. To express our admiration and pledge support of your cause, and as a token of our sincerity in building a strategic partnership with your good self and our long term friendship, we wish to make a donation of USD Two Million to the people of Chad at your personal disposal to support your social and other programs as you see fit. We would be most honored and grateful if our with could be accommodated."
Nailed it. The letter was to be sent along with an "MOU" (Memorandum of Understanding) about the oil field deal, the complaint says.
The letter was revised a few times before it was sent, but one thing stayed consistent: the offer of a $2 million "donation" to be used as the president saw fit.
After all this, however, the energy company did not close a deal with the Chadian government and instead paid approximately $110 million to a Taiwanese oil company for a share of its oil and gas rights in Chad, the complaint says. Was all that work wasted? What's to come of it?
Step 7: Forget That Your Many Links to the US Make You Subject to US Laws
Here's the thing about an international conspiracy: If you keep it all out of the U.S., the U.S. Department of Justice has to work much harder to uncover and stop it.
So maybe don't hatch your scheme literally inside the United Nations, which is in New York City. Or run it though a Hong Kong-based NGO that has offices in Virginia. Or allegedly conduct it with a former foreign government official who is now a U.S. resident (Gadio). Or make your bank transfers from Hong Kong to your alleged co-conspirator's account abroad when the transfer is routed through a bank in New York -- the FBI and the IRS are sticklers about the money part especially. That's just, like, a lot of liability.
And if you return to the U.S. personally, like Ho and Gaido did, that's where law enforcement will physically put the cuffs on you.
So here's probably the best advice from a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who told reporters last week that while he didn't know the "specifics" of the case against Ho and Gaido...
"As a principle, China always requires Chinese enterprises to legally operate their business abroad and abide by the local laws and regulations."
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