by Chuck Ross
In October 2015, a consultant working on behalf of the Chinese energy conglomerate CEFC made an intriguing pitch to Hunter Biden, the son of the then-vice president.
The consultant said that CEFC, one of China’s largest private energy firms, wanted to make a contribution to a nonprofit organization that Biden chaired, according to emails obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation. What’s more, CEFC also wanted to explore investing up to $100 million with an asset management firm with links to Biden.
While Biden’s relationship with CEFC has been widely explored in the media amid revelations that he is the target of a federal investigation, little is known about how the son of the future president first started his partnership with the company.
The email pitch to Biden has not been previously reported.
Senate investigators have said that Biden’s work with CEFC raises potential “counterintelligence” and “criminal financial” concerns, in part because of CEFC’s alleged links to Chinese military intelligence. A report from Senate Republicans also said that U.S. banking regulators flagged millions of dollars in wire payments from CEFC to Biden in 2017 as suspicious.
Emails from Biden’s laptop obtained by the DCNF help fill in some of the gaps of the origins of the CEFC partnership, as does an interview with the consultant who pitched Biden in October 2015.
Scott Oh, the consultant, emailed Biden on Oct. 4, 2015, saying that “CEFC China is very interested in exploring humanitarian initiatives of mutual interest to the World Food program USA and discussing investment opportunities with Burnham.”
Biden was chairman until 2015 of World Food Program USA, a poverty-alleviation organization that supports the United Nations World Food Programme.
Oh also suggested that the partnership would involve invitations for the Biden family to speak in China.
“All expenses will be covered as well as speaking engagements.”
Eric Schwerin, a Biden business partner, emailed Hunter the following day with an update about a meeting he had with Oh. Schwerin said that the CEFC intermediary asked whether the Biden group could find investments for CEFC with Burnham Securities. Devon Archer, a now-former partner of Biden and Schwerin, was a director at Burnham. He was also copied on the email with Hunter.
“They are looking to move some of their assets to the U.S. and are looking for an asset manager to invest with,” wrote Schwerin, who said that the CEFC consortium wanted to meet later that month.
“Asked if they wanted to put $50-100m in Burnham’s funds could we handle it?”
It is not clear whether CEFC ever made a contribution to the World Food Program. Emails from Biden’s laptop show that the CEO of the charity, Rick Leach, met with CEFC representatives in October 2015 and September 2016. The charity did not respond to requests for comment about any donations from CEFC.
Oh acknowledged sending the email to Biden and told the DCNF that he now regrets having anything to do with CEFC. He also questions why he was asked to get in touch with Biden.
“I don’t know if I was duped,” Oh said in a phone interview.
“It’s an honest, honest mistake on my part not to do the due diligence on these people. I’m glad that I didn’t get any other involvement with them.”
Oh said he was not paid as part of the CEFC outreach effort. He also said he could not remember the names of the people who asked him to contact Biden.
“I was randomly requested by a guy who I don’t keep in touch with anymore and asked if I could randomly send an email to Hunter,” he told the DCNF.
Oh told the DCNF that he was informed during a meeting with Schwerin, the Biden business partner, that Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister for Serbia, had discussed CEFC with the Biden business partners.
Jeremic, who began consulting for CEFC China Energy after leaving his post as president of the United Nations General Assembly, was a key figure in a U.S. government bribery investigation of Patrick Ho, the chairman of a think tank fully funded by CEFC called China Energy Fund Committee.
Jeremic did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The former Serbian official made introductions for Ho in September 2014 to two African officials who he later tried to bribe on behalf of CEFC, according to evidence that prosecutors presented at Ho’s trial.
Jeremic, who was not accused of any wrongdoing, testified at Ho’s trial that CEFC hired him in November 2013 at a rate of $330,000 per year in order to “open doors” for the company, the New York Times reported.
In one of the unexplained aspects of Biden’s relationship with CEFC, the company signed a $1 million retainer with him in September 2017 to represent Ho, according to emails from Biden’s laptop.
Biden’s ties to CEFC have come under scrutiny both because of the bribery investigation into the company and because of links between Ye Jianming, the former chairman of CEFC, and Chinese military intelligence.
Ye was secretary general for the China Association for International Friendly Contact Federal (CAIFC), a propaganda arm of the People’s Liberation Army. Ho, the think tank chairman, was also the target of U.S. government surveillance based on suspicions that he operated covertly as an agent of China, according to federal court filings.
While CEFC billed itself as a private energy company, researchers on China’s influence efforts have said that it operated in the interest of the Chinese Communist Party, often by cultivating relationships with government officials and businessmen in the West.
Some intelligence experts have suggested that CEFC maintained ties to China’s intelligence services.
“It’s been clear for some time that this is not just a Chinese commercial company, that they had some intelligence ties,” Martin Hala, a China researcher based in Prague, told The New York Times in 2018. “People from the U.S. intelligence agencies should have known something was going on.”
A report in October 2013 from the Project 2049 Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that focuses on issues in Asia, said that CEFC and the China Energy Fund Committee operated as “political warfare platform[s]” affiliated with the PLA’s General Political Department.
Amid a meteoric rise in the early 2010s, CEFC embarked on a worldwide shopping spree for investments in Europe, Africa and the U.S. in the energy industry and other sectors. In some cases, CEFC used the think tank chaired by Ho as a conduit to influential Westerners and potential dealmakers.
The New York Times reported in 2018 that China Energy Fund Committee, the think tank, contributed $350,000 to Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, another think tank founded by former CIA Director James Woolsey and former national security adviser Robert McFarlane. The company also contributed $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation and $500,000 to the University of Columbia, The Times has reported.
CEFC also cultivated a relationship with Jeremic through both consulting deals and donations to the Serbian’s think tank, the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD).
Serbian news outlet Antidot reported in 2017 that China Energy Fund Committee contributed $1 million to CIRSD. The outlet also reported that a company called State Energy HK Limited gave $2.97 million to CIRSD. A report released by Senate Republicans last month said that HK Limited was an affiliate of CEFC.
European media outlets and government watchdogs have cast a skeptical eye on Jeremic’s relationship with CEFC and noted that the Chinese conglomerate targeted multiple UN officials as part of their efforts to drum up business.
A report in August 2020 from the Royal United Services Institute, a prominent British foreign policy think tank, said that Jeremic’s “murky links” to CEFC “appear to follow a pattern of political influence with the aim of serving China’s core political and business interests.”
“In the case of Jeremić, this included helping CEFC establish new contacts within the UN framework and making deals on its behalf, in exchange for political prominence through meetings with Xi Jinping and a lucrative consultancy position with CEFC following his UN post,” the report said.
In addition to generating business leads for CEFC, Jeremic also appeared at events for its think tank where he advocated for pro-Beijing policies, including the Belt & Road Initiative, the economic development plan enacted by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Jeremic staked out a pro-Beijing position at a CEFC-hosted event on June 25, 2014, when he defended opposition to universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
“There are different countries with different systems and different ways in which [the people] are exercising their political wills. So I think it would be wrong to measure one against the other, to judge this system is better or that system is better,” Jeremic said at the event, according to the South China Morning Post.
CIRSD announced on June 9, 2014, two weeks before that event, that the China Energy Fund Committee was donating $100,000 to the group to provide relief for flooding in Serbia.
Ho and CEFC leaned on Jeremic and his ties to world leaders to set up meetings at the annual UN General Assembly conference that were later at the center of the bribery investigation against Ho.
According to prosecutors, Ho emailed Jeremic on Sept. 22, 2014, saying he had an “[u]rgent request” and asked if Jeremic “personally” knew Idris Déby, the president of Chad. Ho wrote that “[t]he Company is undertaking some very major takeovers in that country and which might need the endorsement of the Chief.”
Jeremic was able to set up a meeting for Ho with Cheikh Gadio, a close associate of Déby, prosecutors said. The meeting with Gadio set the stage for another meeting in December 2014 in which Ho and a delegation of CEFC executives offered Déby gift boxes stuffed with $2 million in cash.
Déby and Gadio initially rejected the money and told Ho that they were “angered” that he would attempt to bribe them, prosecutors said. Ho convinced them to keep the money and said that he and CEFC would formally send a letter earmarking the money as a charitable donation to be used however Déby saw fit.
According to federal prosecutors, Ho and CEFC executives used the payment as a bribe to potentially win contracts to drill for oil in Chad.
Ho also met at the same UN General Assembly conclave in September 2014 with Sam Kutesa, the foreign minister of Uganda who served as president of UNGA through 2015.
According to prosecutors, Ho told Jeremic on Sept. 22, 2014, “that he is in New York and is ‘tasked’ with various ‘missions,’ including meeting with Kutesa.”
Jeremic encouraged a partnership between CEFC and Kutesa, according to messages revealed by prosecutors.
The former Serbian official told Ho in a message on Oct. 10, 2014, “that he can confirm to Sam Kutesa ‘how fruitful the win-win cooperation with CEFC can be.’”
U.S. prosecutors said that Ho directed a wire for $500,000 to Kutesa’s account and conspired to wire $500,000 to Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni.
In June 2016, Kutesa solicited a donation from Ho and CEFC to his charity, the Food Security and Energy Sustainability Foundation, according to court records.
Ho was indicted in November 2017 and arrested in New York on charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act related to the attempted bribes. He was convicted in December 2018 and sentenced to 36 months in prison.
There is an unexplained gap in the timeline of interactions between Biden and CEFC after the approach by the consultant, Oh, in 2015.
A report from Senate Republicans released on Sept. 23 said that CEFC wired $5 million in payments to Biden’s law firm from August 2017 to September 2018. Another $1 million was wired to Biden’s firm, Owasco LLC., in March 2018 for legal services related to the Patrick Ho case.
It is unclear what work Biden did for Ho. He is not listed on any of the legal filings in Ho’s case and did not appear at his trial.
Ho’s arrest set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to CEFC’s bankruptcy.
Days before Ho was detained, Biden and Ye, the CEFC chairman, met to discuss a $40 million investment that Biden helped negotiate for natural gas from the Monkey Island field in Louisiana, according to emails from Biden’s laptop.
“I look forward to seeing you at your home in New York next week. I have much to report regarding our partnership here in the US,” Biden wrote to Ye on Nov. 8, 2017.
Biden had also talked with Ye about a $9.1 billion agreement that CEFC struck in September 2017 with Rosneft, the Russian oil giant, according to messages that Biden sent a former business partner, Tony Bobulinski.
The Rosneft deal fell apart after Chinese authorities detained Ye in March 2018 as part of a bribery investigation. Ye has not been seen in public since his arrest.
While Biden has not been publicly accused of any wrongdoing in his dealings with CEFC, he did send messages to a business associate in May 2017 indicating that he was concerned about running afoul of U.S. laws regarding foreign agents, as well as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the same under which Patrick Ho was convicted.
“We don’t want to have to register as foreign agents under the FCPA which is much more expansive than people who should know choose not to know,” Biden wrote to his associate, Tony Bobulinski, on May 1, 2017, according to a message obtained by the DCNF.
Neither Schwerin nor a lawyer for Biden responded to multiple requests for comment.
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