You never know exactly where the next globule of putrid slime will ooze out of Beijing’s local power/support base in Hong Kong. It could be from any of the shoe-shining tycoons and bureaucrats, shady patriotic businessmen, opportunistic loyalist politicians, obedient academics, groveling pseudo-think-tanks, rural landowners, triads, even entertainers. Their grubby activities might be domestic and among one another, or they could overlap with the sprawling network of Mainland official and semi-official organizations and companies whose tentacles increasingly slither throughout the city. Anywhere with connections and an assumption that the rules don’t apply to me.
Patrick Ho was an eye doctor who jumped on the pro-Beijing bandwagon before the handover and was appointed to the ceremonial Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the 1990s and the position of Home Affairs Secretary in the government in the 2000s (a half-joke job he performed adequately). He subsequently swanned around little-noticed in various Beijing-friendly roles – until now, when he is arrested by US authorities on international bribery charges. (Good story here; background here; more on allegations here.)
What’s really juicy about this is the sheer number of boxes it ticks. There’s ephemeral stuff, like his actress wife (who reportedly married him because the establishment heavyweight ‘gave her space’). But the most interesting is the Mainland energy company CEFC – supposedly private, supposedly run by whizz-kid out of nowhere Ye Jianming, suddenly a big stakeholder in Russian state oil giant Rosneft. It is also behind the think-tank supposedly focused on energy and yeah-right culture, complete with some sort of NGO UN-connection, where Patrick Ho practiced his ‘public diplomacy’, which allegedly included bribing African politicians.
CEFC is an open proponent of ‘Belt and Road’, China’s famous visionary international infrastructure win-win partnership blah-blah, increasingly looking like a resources-grab-by-sovereign-loan-shark. And joy of joys – CEFC and Dr (genuine!) Ho have been active in pushing Belt and Road here in Hong Kong, so we can drag lawmaker Regina Ip’s Maritime Silk Road Institute into this (Ye is an advisor, they go on CEFC junkets, etc).
Ho is more an early-adopting CCP shoe-shiner than your stereotype pro-Beijing crook-sleazebag. That’s to say he’s a nice respectable educated middle-class Hong Kong guy with whom many of our oh-so decent great and good have connections. They are hurriedly dropping him now – though watch to see if true patriots later quietly defend him: on the face of it, he was serving the glorious motherland rather than just lining his pockets (though it’s always OK to do both). It could be a tragic/side-splittingly funny/all-too predictable case of someone who sailed too close to the Northern wind.
The only disappointment is that the alleged bribes were trifling – but the US prosecution authorities concerned are known for their extreme zeal.
Icing on the cake: Ho backed a United Front astroturfing thing during Occupy aimed at smearing pro-democrats. It was called ‘Public Officials Integrity Concern Group’. (You might ask which Communist-backed public integrity fake-protest group: perhaps not this one, but this one.)
You can’t make this stuff up…