FBI asked Macau billionaire if partner was Chinese agent, according to court records

Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng, accused of bribing former UN General Assembly president John Ashe, exits US Federal Court in New York, on June 27, 2016.
Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng, accused of bribing former UN General Assembly president John Ashe, exits US Federal Court in New York, on June 27, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The FBI last year questioned a Macau billionaire charged with participating in a bribery scheme at the United Nations about whether one of his partners was involved with Chinese foreign intelligence, according to court records.

A transcript of a Federal Bureau of Investigation interview of Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng following his 2015 arrest was filed in federal court in Manhattan last week by his lawyers.

In a motion, they noted FBI agents questioned Ng on whether he knew if a business associate, Qin Fei, was a Chinese agent or had contact with Chinese intelligence.

The transcript said Ng said he did not know. He called Qin a “partner” at a UN-focused news outlet that prosecutors say Ng founded and that was used as a conduit to pay bribes to former UN General Assembly president John Ashe.

Ng also said Qin was a consultant at his company, Sun Kian Ip Group.

Qin could not be reached for comment. Ng’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. The FBI and Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Qin’s link to the case on Friday.

Prosecutors last year accused Ng, 68, of giving Ashe over US$500,000 (S$670,000) in bribes in exchange for, among other things, supporting a UN-backed conference center in Macau his company would develop.

Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, died in June awaiting trial. Ng has pleaded not guilty.

The FBI’s interview of Ng came after he and an assistant were arrested in September 2015 on earlier charges that they made false statements about why they brought US$4.5 million into the United States from China.

Charging papers in that case said some money Ng claimed was for gambling was instead used to renovate the house of “Business Associate-2.” That matches Ng’s description of providing money to help Qin renovate his US$10 million Long Island mansion, the transcript showed.

Not long before Ng’s arrest, an “Individual-1” drove him to Business Associate-2’s Long Island house, court papers said.

A source previously identified Individual-1 as Ying Lin, who worked for Air China and was charged last year by Brooklyn federal prosecutors specializing in national security with structuring bank deposits to evade reporting requirements.

Records list Lin, who has pleaded not guilty, as an agent for Qin’s property. Her lawyer declined to comment.