Some of the emails the New York Post obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop last week illuminate the ties between the son of Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and a bankrupt Chinese energy company called CEFC China Energy.
The owner of CEFC, Ye Jianming, was among the most ambitious of Chinese tycoons before his business empire collapsed and he vanished into the Communist nation’s shadowy prison system.
Ye was once portrayed as one of China’s greatest rags-to-riches stories, a humble park ranger who began making successful oil investments in his twenties and became a billionaire before he hit 40. He was marketed as an affable businessman foreigners could feel safe making deals with, well-connected but not an obvious tool of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Ye’s CEFC company made oil purchases in Europe and the Middle East that would have been politically difficult for China’s state-owned enterprises (SOE). His business partners tried not to dwell on the fact that he promptly resold his oil to those very same Chinese SOEs. The company was soon raking in billions of dollars and running rings around China’s poorly-managed national oil companies.
“The young tycoon appeared to be China’s unofficial energy envoy, meeting presidents across the globe and even becoming an adviser to a European government. In 2016, he ranked No. 2 on the Fortune magazine 40 Under 40 list,” CNN wrote of Ye in late 2018. Unfortunately for Ye, CNN was writing his professional epitaph, not another glowing profile of a rising Chinese star.
CEFC used its billions to go on a wild buying spree in the Czech Republic, swooping in as soon as relations thawed between China and the Czechs. Ye quietly became a “special economic adviser” to Czech President Milos Zeman – an appointment that probably would have become a national scandal if publicized. CEFC created a “non-governmental organization” (NGO) that scored a similarly unusual position as a consultant to the United Nations.
It became increasingly clear that Ye was the point man for China’s effort to gain a foothold in Europe for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure program slammed as thinly-veiled colonialism by its critics. CEFC began describing its own ventures as Belt and Road projects in press releases.
CEFC’s NGO held conferences that praised China and BRI, establishing valuable connections with international executives and former government officials, including retired American officials. The NGO seemed to have little purpose other than spreading China’s influence. Ye rubbed elbows with top officials around the world.
Skeptical observers noted that for all of its marketing as a plucky wildcat operation, CEFC was actually run just like a state-owned enterprise. Its ties to the Chinese Communist Party were stronger than advertised, and Ye himself might have been a “PLA princeling” – the child of a high-ranking People’s Liberation Army officer whose image as an independent businessman was a carefully-crafted illusion. In China, Ye is widely believed to be the grandson of a Communist Revolution war hero named Marshal Ye Jianying, a relationship he usually denied when the media asked. Among other curious details, Ye could never come up with a convincing explanation for where he got the money to finance his early acquisitions.
The New York Times noted in 2018 that Ye worked hard to develop relationships with Washington power players from both parties, especially the Biden family:
An aide to Mr. Ye met the vice president’s second son, Hunter Biden, in Washington. Mr. Ye then met privately with Hunter Biden at a hotel in Miami in May 2017, according to people with direct knowledge of the meetings who were not authorized to speak publicly because the meetings were private. Mr. Ye proposed a partnership to invest in American infrastructure and energy deals, the people said.
During this period, the vice president’s son was managing Rosemont Seneca Partners, an investment firm he formed with Chris Heinz, the stepson of John Kerry, the former secretary of state. Mr. Heinz said he has no knowledge of CEFC and ended his relationship with Rosemont Seneca in 2015.
It is unclear whether Hunter Biden struck any business deals with CEFC or Mr. Ye. Through his attorney, Hunter Biden declined to comment.
In 2017, when one of Ye’s top people got in trouble with American law enforcement, his first call was to Joe Biden’s brother James. The associate in question was named Patrick Ho, and his investigation by U.S. federal agents for allegations of bribery in Uganda and Chad looks like the first in a series of events that led to Ye’s downfall and the bankruptcy of CEFC.
According to the New York Times, James Biden claimed he was surprised by the call from Ho and believed the CEFC man was actually trying to get in touch with Hunter Biden. He refused to discuss the details of the call from Ho any further with the media.
Ho was accused of bribing African officials to grease the wheels for a deal that would circumvent U.S. sanctions by using CEFC as the middleman to facilitate sales of banned Iranian oil. According to the Department of Justice:
Ho was involved in two bribery schemes to pay top officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages for CEFC China, a Shanghai-based multibillion-dollar conglomerate that operates internationally in multiple sectors, including oil, gas, and banking.
In the first scheme (the “Chad Scheme”), Ho, on behalf of CEFC China, offered a $2 million cash bribe, hidden within gift boxes, to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, in an effort to obtain valuable oil rights from the Chadian government. In the second scheme (the “Uganda Scheme”), Ho caused a $500,000 bribe to be paid, via wires transmitted through New York, New York, to an account designated by Sam Kutesa, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda, who had recently completed his term as the President of the UN General Assembly.
Prosecutors also alleged Ho and CEFC were involved in arms deals in Africa, producing an email that showed Ho fielding a request to “intervene with the Chinese state” to obtain more weapons for the Chadian government to employ against Boko Haram. Ho was ultimately sentenced to three years in prison; he was convicted of international bribery and money laundering in December 2018.
The Ho indictment shone a spotlight on CEFC for the first time in its brief, but amazingly lucrative, existence. The company became a marquee example of how China mixes geopolitics and business.
The New York Times wrote that the company “emerged from obscurity in recent years as a key player in 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.” Western media generally expressed astonishment at how huge and well-connected CEFC had become over the preceding decade.
CEFC denied wrongdoing in Africa and was not directly indicted in the Ho case, but the fortunes of both Ye Jianming and the multi-billion-dollar company he founded at age 25 unraveled quickly after the FBI arrested Ho.
CEFC disassociated itself from its NGO, the China Energy Fund Committee, which figured prominently in the Ho case. In March 2018, the Chinese financial news organization Caixin published an expose that revealed CEFC’s finances were “a house of cards, precariously stacked on loans to cover loans,” as CNN put it. Caixin thought it was odd that a company boasting billions of dollars in revenue could not seem to turn a profit.
Within days of the Caixin report, Ye Jianming simply disappeared, never to be seen again. Caixin reported rumors that Ye was arrested and placed under investigation for vague economic crimes. Some of his former associates suddenly found themselves facing corruption charges in China.
The New York Post published an email from Hunter Biden’s laptop last week that appeared to show him getting involved in a business deal with CEFC in May 2017:
Biden was identified as “Chair/Vice Chair depending on agreement with CEFC,” an apparent reference to the former Shanghai-based conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co.
His pay was pegged at “850” and the email also noted that “Hunter has some office expectations he will elaborate.”
In addition, the email outlined a “provisional agreement” under which 80 percent of the “equity,” or shares in the new company, would be split equally among four people whose initials correspond to the sender and three recipients, with “H” apparently referring to Biden.
The email included an apparent reference to a CEFC executive named Zang Jian Jun, and most controversially, a breakout of equity in the proposed business venture that specified 20 percent for Hunter Biden (identified as “H”) plus another “10 held by H for the big guy.”
Another Hunter Biden email mentioned a deal he made directly with Ye Jianming sometime in 2017. The deal was originally supposed to bring Hunter Biden over $10 million per year in compensation “for introductions alone,” but Biden wrote that Ye “changed that deal after we me[t] in MIAMI TO A MUCH MORE LASTING AND LUCRATIVE ARRANGEMENT to create a holding company 50% percent [sic] owned by ME and 50% owned by him.” (The capital letters appear in the original, but the other edits were made by the New York Post.)
“Consulting fees is one piece of our income stream but the reason this proposal by the chairman was so much more interesting to me and my family is that we would also be partners inn [sic] the equity and profits of the JV’s [joint venture’s] investments,” Biden wrote.